Is Buddhism elitist?

No holds barred discussion on the Buddhadharma. Argue about rebirth, karma, commentarial interpretations etc. Be nice to each other.

Re: Is Buddhism elitist?

Postby greentara » Mon Nov 05, 2012 10:51 pm

"slightly bloodshot eyes,
and hair of great quality, dark brown and curling clockwise.
They show little concern for their appearance,
and outwardly their conduct is quite ordinary.
These people speak forthrightly,
or else they echo all the words that others speak to them.
It is said that they are to be instructed in the Great Perfection.
If all these qualities are complete in anyone,
regardless of how low that person's status may be
even if a butcher, a prostitute, a sweeper, or a hunter
this vital essence of the secret"
This seems to be an ideal universal portrayal of of an enlightened being whether it be a buddha, rishi, sage or yogi.
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Re: Is Buddhism elitist?

Postby tomamundsen » Mon Nov 05, 2012 10:53 pm

greentara wrote:"slightly bloodshot eyes,
and hair of great quality, dark brown and curling clockwise.
They show little concern for their appearance,
and outwardly their conduct is quite ordinary.
These people speak forthrightly,
or else they echo all the words that others speak to them.
It is said that they are to be instructed in the Great Perfection.
If all these qualities are complete in anyone,
regardless of how low that person's status may be
even if a butcher, a prostitute, a sweeper, or a hunter
this vital essence of the secret"
This seems to be an ideal universal portrayal of of an enlightened being whether it be a buddha, rishi, sage or yogi.

Interesting. What's the deal with the bloodshot eyes?
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Re: Is Buddhism elitist?

Postby Red Faced Buddha » Mon Nov 05, 2012 10:57 pm

Johnny Dangerous wrote:I'm somewhat unsure of what you mean by Elitist here.

I think that like any religion Buddhism has it's set of things you basically need to accept before everything else can make sense - to join the club so to speak, the four noble truths at a bare minimum! Unlike other religions though, you are encouraged (Kalama sutta etc) to actually test everything in the laboratory of your own heart before knowing it's truthfulness. At least we are encouraged to rely on something beyond doctrinaire answers to questions, which is certainly more than can be said of many "isms".

In the end if you accept the teachings you will believe that other people (most probably non-Buddhist) are a bit deluded, but this is the same for ANY worldview you accept, Marxism, Christianity, Judaism, American Exceptionalism/ any Nationalism, all viewpoints based on race and ethnicity, all of these views can to some degree make you an "elitist", I think this is why the Buddha himself cautioned so strongly against 'views'.

Bit of a conundrum, but I think the short answer would be that if anything, Buddhism has an argument for being less 'elitist' than most religions and philosophies out there.

I know this sounds contradictory but we have to be able to somewhat separate Buddhism from Buddhists, anytime you take a philosophy and judge it solely by your perception of the actions of it's adherents, I think there is a tendency to focus on the negative, and thus you judge the teaching by the actions of those doing the worse job of practicing them.

I guess I would also say that from my own limited exposure, Mahayana definitely has a much more egalitarian flavor in this regard than Theraveda does, the focus on Bodhicitta, and the focus on the idea of waking up to one's inherent Buddha Nature.


Well said.
A person once asked me why I would want to stop rebirth. "It sounds pretty cool. Being able to come back. Who wouldn't want to be reborn."
I replied. "Wanting to be reborn is like wanting to stay in a jail cell, when you have the chance to go free and experience the whole wide world. Does a convict, on being freed from his shabby, constricting, little cell, suddenly say "I really want to go back to jail and be put in a cell. It sounds pretty cool. Being able to come back. Who wouldn't want that?"
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Re: Is Buddhism elitist?

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Mon Nov 05, 2012 11:01 pm

viniketa wrote:For some time now (perhaps 15 years), I've been contemplating the question of whether or not Buddhism is 'elitist'. I've been fighting this conclusion, but the evidence from things I've read or seen seems to indicate it is, and has been so since almost the beginning. As much as a prescription for suffering, the teachings of Buddhism seem to lend themselves to justifying one's own elitist leanings. This seems so not only in the teachings on karma (a convenient way of dismissing the suffering of 'others') and accumulating merit, but also so in the description of the qualities of a Buddha along with the almost racial implications of terms included in Nāgārjuna's Dharma-sāṃgraha.

I'm very interested in reading others' thoughts on this, especially thought that indicate this is a wrong-view of the teachings.

Thank you.


No, Buddhism is not elitist.
All beings have equal potential to realize the perfect cessation of suffering.
But people also have different types of obstacles.
Obstacles, however, can also be used as stepping stones.
Whether one can turn his or her obstacles into stepping stones depends on many factors.
Feeling superior to others (elitism) is a very difficult obstacle to overcome
but overcoming it is the basis of humility,
and that is the first step in letting go of ego clinging.
If one sees elitism as being intrinsically either good or bad,
then there is no understanding of emptiness.
......

First, please make a distinction between the dharma teachings, said to be the words of the Buddha,
and the institution of buddhism.

Second, holding "karma' as a justification of the suffering of others is a misunderstanding.
The karma is what ripens in the mind, and has little to do with material or 'external' objects.
For example, a person who is greedy and stingy in this life will experience poverty in the next life.
This doesn't mean the person won't have money. That person may very well be born into the wealthiest of families.
But that wealth will never be enough. That person will always feel he doesn't have enough
and as a consequence he will suffer the pain of poverty.
That is what is meant by karma.

Instead of going by what Nagarjuna may have said about the Buddha's appearance,
go by what the Buddha says in the Vajracchedikā Prajñāpāramitā (Diamond)Sutra:

"Subhuti, what do you think?
Can the Buddha be recognized by means of his bodily form?"
"No, Most Honored One, the Buddha cannot be recognized by means of his bodily form.
Why? Because when the Buddha speaks of bodily form, it is not a real form, but only an illusion."
The Buddha then spoke to Subhuti: "All that has a form is illusive and unreal.
When you see that all forms are illusive and unreal, then you will begin to perceive your true Buddha nature."
. . .
another translation:
" Subhuti, what do you think, is it possible to see the Thus Come One in his physical appearances?"
"No World Honored One, it is not possible to see Thus Come One in his physical appearances.
Why? Because the physical appearances mentioned by the Thus Come One are not physical appearances."
The Buddha said to Subhuti,
"All appearances are empty and false.
If one sees all appearances
As no appearances,
Then one sees the Thus Come One."

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Re: Is Buddhism elitist?

Postby Lhug-Pa » Mon Nov 05, 2012 11:25 pm

greentara wrote:"slightly bloodshot eyes,
and hair of great quality, dark brown and curling clockwise.
They show little concern for their appearance,
and outwardly their conduct is quite ordinary.
These people speak forthrightly,
or else they echo all the words that others speak to them.
It is said that they are to be instructed in the Great Perfection.
If all these qualities are complete in anyone,
regardless of how low that person's status may be
even if a butcher, a prostitute, a sweeper, or a hunter
this vital essence of the secret"

This seems to be an ideal universal portrayal of of an enlightened being whether it be a buddha, rishi, sage or yogi.


Perhaps so, although you missed part of it ;) :


tomamundsen wrote:
Lhug-Pa wrote:
Longchen Rabjam wrote:The Array of Inlaid Gems states:

They have powerful limbs, a dark complexion,
even, white, rounded teeth
, slightly bloodshot eyes,
and hair of great quality, dark brown and curling clockwise.
They show little concern for their appearance,
and outwardly their conduct is quite ordinary.
These people speak forthrightly,
or else they echo all the words that others speak to them.
It is said that they are to be instructed in the Great Perfection.
If all these qualities are complete in anyone,
regardless of how low that person's status may be
even if a butcher, a prostitute, a sweeper, or a hunter
this vital essence of the secret pith instructions should
be conferred.

What race of people is he even describing here? Tibetans?


Not sure. I'm guessing that it was composed primarily with Tibetans in mind. And am hoping that one doesn't have to literally fit all of the above criteria to be a Dzogchenpa.
Last edited by Lhug-Pa on Mon Nov 05, 2012 11:40 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Is Buddhism elitist?

Postby tomamundsen » Mon Nov 05, 2012 11:30 pm

Lhug-Pa wrote:Not sure. I'm guessing that it was composed primarily with Tibetans in mind. I'm hoping that one doesn't have to literally fit the above criteria to be a Dzogchenpa.

Doesn't seem like it. Just seems that if you don't fit the criteria there might be more difficulty.

Sounds like he is describing a rastafarian :rolling:
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Re: Is Buddhism elitist?

Postby greentara » Tue Nov 06, 2012 2:20 am

tomamundsen, Bloodshot eyes may indicate meditating with eyes open in the sun as the buddha or yogi has divorced himself from attachment to anything physical and is indifferent to the body.
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Re: Is Buddhism elitist?

Postby lobster » Tue Nov 06, 2012 11:10 pm

The Buddha was a woman and a Marxist . . . :tongue:
Just like human nature to make Buddhism join our preferences, clubs and arbitrary divisions . . .

The Buddha was a crustacean. Everybody knows that. :twothumbsup:
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Re: Is Buddhism elitist?

Postby catmoon » Wed Nov 07, 2012 5:46 am

Is Buddhism elitist? Maybe a little.


It's not that elitism is a Buddhist principle or anything like that. But there are numerous teachings that are not taught to beginners and sometimes even quite advanced practitioners. There's the Ngondro thing. So there are numerous practices that are not accessible to someone walking in off the street, and I think that is often taken for a form of elitism.
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Re: Is Buddhism elitist?

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Wed Nov 07, 2012 1:21 pm

catmoon wrote:Is Buddhism elitist? Maybe a little.


It's not that elitism is a Buddhist principle or anything like that. But there are numerous teachings that are not taught to beginners and sometimes even quite advanced practitioners. There's the Ngondro thing. So there are numerous practices that are not accessible to someone walking in off the street, and I think that is often taken for a form of elitism.


That is true, but the teachings are available to all who apply. However, it's like training to be a surgeon. You don't just walk in off the street and start hacking away, but nobody is telling you you can't learn. So, yes, there are some teachings that are not widely shared, or not shared at first. At the same time, even when one is presented with the teachings, they may not be applied. Even something as basic meditation, many people will never even try it.

Consider the context in which Buddhism arose. This is different from the system where at some point the teachings were only available to the Priestly Brahmin caste.
Not only are the dharma teachings open to all beings, but within those teachings is the wish that all beings practice them and realize they too are Buddha.

But the Buddhist community has just as many snobs in it as any other.
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The Chinese characters are Fo (buddha) and Ming (bright). The image is of a student of Buddhism, who, imagining himself to be a monk, and not understanding the true meaning of the words takes the sound of the words literally. Likewise, People on web forums sometime seem to be foaming at the mouth.
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Re: Is Buddhism elitist?

Postby viniketa » Wed Nov 07, 2012 2:35 pm

PadmaVonSamba wrote:But the Buddhist community has just as many snobs in it as any other.


:rolling: I suppose this is so...

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Re: Is Buddhism elitist?

Postby greentara » Fri Nov 16, 2012 2:24 am

A couple of years ago there was a doco on TV about a Buddhist meditation retreat but the twist was only ceo's, corporate types and the well healed were invited to attend the retreat; it was a closed to everyone else. There was no emails or letters complaining about this blatant form of elitism, its as if everyone just accepted this is what society had become.
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Re: Is Buddhism elitist?

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Fri Nov 16, 2012 4:04 am

greentara wrote:A couple of years ago there was a doco on TV about a Buddhist meditation retreat but the twist was only ceo's, corporate types and the well healed were invited to attend the retreat; it was a closed to everyone else. There was no emails or letters complaining about this blatant form of elitism, its as if everyone just accepted this is what society had become.

Yes, sometimes the most heavily afflicted need extra tender care.
:smile:
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Original painting by P.Volker /used by permission.
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Re: Is Buddhism elitist?

Postby greentara » Fri Nov 16, 2012 6:37 am

Thanks Padma, A wonderful answer.
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Re: Is Buddhism elitist?

Postby Nighthawk » Fri Nov 16, 2012 6:42 am

Jodo Shu/Shinshu schools of Buddhism are very egalitarian.
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Re: Is Buddhism elitist?

Postby undefineable » Fri Nov 16, 2012 2:58 pm

greentara wrote:A couple of years ago there was a doco on TV about a Buddhist meditation retreat but the twist was only ceo's, corporate types and the well healed were invited to attend the retreat; it was a closed to everyone else. There was no emails or letters complaining about this blatant form of elitism, its as if everyone just accepted this is what society had become.


Did it become clear what the point of this exclusivity was -besides furnishing the sangha in question with vast wads of cash- ?

There are ample references from tantric mahayana teachers that success in business is a good predictor of success in higher-level Buddhist practice, so it may be that the exclusivity was just added to ease the selection process necessary in vajrayana, in which case I'm sure the audience got the point implicitly.

I actually like my Buddhism transformative. Honestly, when I read some of the posts here (not including any recent replies on this thread), I get the impression of a hardcore egalitarianism along the lines of 'nothing has any value, therefore every being and every life is equal in every conceivable way' that -were I (or, I suspect, anyone else) to fully believe it- would leave me/us jumping off a tall building with as little concern as one takes in preparing a snack :thinking:

On the other hand, when we recognise that there are no Selves -only propulsion and focus within a limitless ocean of potential realities- then what sense can it make to say that one being is ultimately 'better' than another?
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Re: Is Buddhism elitist?

Postby Jikan » Fri Nov 16, 2012 11:51 pm

greentara wrote:A couple of years ago there was a doco on TV about a Buddhist meditation retreat but the twist was only ceo's, corporate types and the well healed were invited to attend the retreat; it was a closed to everyone else. There was no emails or letters complaining about this blatant form of elitism, its as if everyone just accepted this is what society had become.


Hm. I'm curious to find out which group this was, and which teacher organized this particular retreat. If anyone has details on this, please post it in-thread or PM me.

thank you...
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Re: Is Buddhism elitist?

Postby lobster » Sat Nov 17, 2012 9:33 am

As a born again YinYanist I know how exclusive we are. Anyone trying to join forfeits the right to membership. I try and sneak in occasionally but get thrown out by my own self-consciousness. :popcorn:

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Re: Is Buddhism elitist?

Postby greentara » Sat Nov 17, 2012 10:17 am

Jikan, It was years ago and I can't remember the teacher but it was a religious program shown on the ABC, which is the Australian version of the BBC.
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Re: Is Buddhism elitist?

Postby Jikan » Sat Nov 17, 2012 1:33 pm

Thanks greentara! that should help quite a lot.
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