Is the tulku system too exclusive?

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Re: Is the tulku system too exclusive?

Postby smcj » Sat Dec 14, 2013 4:03 am

But seriously--really? You think Harvard discriminates against Buddhists?


No, but certainly an insider perspective/approach is taken less seriously.

Granted this is less true in some divinity schools but I was more commenting on the doctoral programs. I am not sure it is fair to compare someone who has done two years at a div school against the 6 year FPMT masters program.

Lama Willa Miller's bio:

Lama Willa has studied and practiced in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition for the last twenty years in the non-sectarian Kagyu, Nyingma and Shangpa lineages of Tibetan Buddhism. Her teachers and guides have included Kalu Rinpoche, Bokar Rinpoche, Dilgo Khentse Rinpoche, Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche, Lama Norlha Rinpoche, Lama John Makransky and others. She completed two traditional Three Year Retreats in the nineties, was authorized as a lama [Buddhist minister] in 1999, and teaches Tibetan Buddhist practice, meditation and yoga in the Northeast. Her teaching specialties include natural meditation (mahamudra), heart-cultivation (lojong), deity practice, and practices for deep retreat.

(edit for brevity)

She is a Visiting Lecturer in Buddhist Ministry at Harvard Divinity School, and has a PhD from Harvard University.
(formatting mine)
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Re: Is the tulku system too exclusive?

Postby Tom » Sat Dec 14, 2013 4:11 am

Alfredo wrote:
For Buddhist Studies, or religious studies in general, it would be a poor scholar indeed who failed to deeply understand the religion he/she studies. Unless one is fixated on ancient history or philology (and possibly even then), this means appreciating the lived experience of its adherents. I find it hard to believe that academic departments are really as scientistic as more devout types sometimes suppose.


I agree with you and also W.C. Smith's sentiment that religious scholarship should not be unrecognizable to the actual adherent. However, we will have to disagree about what is actually happening on the ground in terms of the understanding of the lived experience of practitioners.
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Re: Is the tulku system too exclusive?

Postby Alfredo » Sat Dec 14, 2013 4:18 am

Wait, is the Maitreya Project--complete with land expropriation--still happening in Kushinagar? What's going on? I thought they moved it to Bodhgaya?

The laying of the foundation stone for a very large Maitreya Buddha statue in Kushinagar, Uttar Pradesh, India, will take place during a ceremony on Friday, December 13, 2013. The ceremony and foundation stone laying will signify the handing over of approximately 275 acres of land from the state government of Uttar Pradesh to the Maitreya Project.


http://mandala.fpmt.org/2013/maitreya-p ... p-forward/
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Re: Is the tulku system too exclusive?

Postby Tom » Sat Dec 14, 2013 4:26 am

smcj wrote:
But seriously--really? You think Harvard discriminates against Buddhists?


No, but certainly an insider perspective/approach is taken less seriously.

Granted this is less true in some divinity schools but I was more commenting on the doctoral programs. I am not sure it is fair to compare someone who has done two years at a div school against the 6 year FPMT masters program.

Lama Willa Miller's bio:

Lama Willa has studied and practiced in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition for the last twenty years in the non-sectarian Kagyu, Nyingma and Shangpa lineages of Tibetan Buddhism. Her teachers and guides have included Kalu Rinpoche, Bokar Rinpoche, Dilgo Khentse Rinpoche, Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche, Lama Norlha Rinpoche, Lama John Makransky and others. She completed two traditional Three Year Retreats in the nineties, was authorized as a lama [Buddhist minister] in 1999, and teaches Tibetan Buddhist practice, meditation and yoga in the Northeast. Her teaching specialties include natural meditation (mahamudra), heart-cultivation (lojong), deity practice, and practices for deep retreat.

(edit for brevity)

She is a Visiting Lecturer in Buddhist Ministry at Harvard Divinity School, and has a PhD from Harvard University.
(formatting mine)


Willa, I'm sure, would not disagree with the observations that in academia the insider perspective is often regarded with suspicion.
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Re: Is the tulku system too exclusive?

Postby Indrajala » Sat Dec 14, 2013 4:43 am

Tom wrote:No they will generally have no idea of the emic perspective, which is discouraged. This is part of the problem.


To what level have you participated in the academy?
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Re: Is the tulku system too exclusive?

Postby Indrajala » Sat Dec 14, 2013 4:49 am

Tom wrote:Willa, I'm sure, would not disagree with the observations that in academia the insider perspective is often regarded with suspicion.


This has changed considerably. It isn't like in the old days where it was taboo to get involved with the natives you were researching.

A lot of eminent Buddhist Studies scholars are Buddhist, either openly or secretly.

Robert Thurman, Geoffrey Samuel, John McRae, etc...
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Re: Is the tulku system too exclusive?

Postby Tom » Sat Dec 14, 2013 5:08 am

Indrajala wrote:
Tom wrote:Willa, I'm sure, would not disagree with the observations that in academia the insider perspective is often regarded with suspicion.


This has changed considerably. It isn't like in the old days where it was taboo to get involved with the natives you were researching.

A lot of eminent Buddhist Studies scholars are Buddhist, either openly or secretly.

Robert Thurman, Geoffrey Samuel, John McRae, etc...


Actually, in the good old days of Hopkins and Thurman (I know Thurman is still very active) it was much better.

To answer your personal question, I have experience at the doctoral level but I prefer not to go into my biographical information on a public forum, partly because of the issues we are discussing here. For example, I am not sure I would like my peers to know that I post, or what I post, on a Buddhist board.
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Re: Is the tulku system too exclusive?

Postby smcj » Sat Dec 14, 2013 6:54 am

Tom wrote:To answer your personal question, I have experience at the doctoral level but I prefer not to go into my biographical information on a public forum, partly because of the issues we are discussing here. For example, I am not sure I would like my peers to know that I post, or what I post, on a Buddhist board.


Tom? Is that YOU?!?!?!
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Re: Is the tulku system too exclusive?

Postby Tom » Sat Dec 14, 2013 6:57 am

smcj wrote:
Tom wrote:Tom? Is that YOU?!?!?!


དོམ!

Is that you SMCJ! :rolling:
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Re: Is the tulku system too exclusive?

Postby Alfredo » Sat Dec 14, 2013 8:39 am

I teach at Brigham Young University, but shhh--they think I'm a Mormon!
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Re: Is the tulku system too exclusive?

Postby JKhedrup » Sat Dec 14, 2013 9:28 am

I am one of those lackey translators Alfredo talks about who studied on the LRZTP.

I agree the program has its limitations, but rather than give up a huge segment of my life, it was only two years. It gave me enough of a basis to translate at least Basic level teachings of an excellent Lharampa Geshe. I have now worked with him for the past nearly 3 years and my Tibetan (both colloquial and Classical) has improved during that time. I have access to him for questions, we travel together to India, where I can meet various masters who I wouldn't have had access to without the language.

I finished my BA at UofT, and had to decide whether to try and study Tibetan there as either an upgrade to the BA or at the Masters level, or go with LRZTP. For my purposes (non academic, practitioner oriented), LTZTP was the better choice. I made the decision ironically because I saw one of the professors teaching Tibetan at the university could not hold a basic-level colloquial conversation in the language. Also, there was funding assistance for LRZTP and even if I had paid the full amount it would have been far cheaper than attending University courses with a teacher who could not even get around in colloquial Tibetan.

I am somewhat paralyzed by my lack of graduate-level education though. And the LRTZP program while good for basic level training for oral interpreters does not train one to translate texts really. However, the skills I learned during the program allowed me to form a close bond with the Geshe I translate for, and he guides me through texts during free periods, and I find my understanding of what I read and ability to put it into at least decent English prose increasing.

As for what you say about the Masters Program, I agree there are some weaknesses though your caustic language makes me feel you have some sort of hidden bias. Most MP graduates are not guaranteed a teaching position- I would agree with that. However, some of the most successful teachers in FPMT- Emily Hsu, Sixte Vincotte, Sangye Khandro, Wai Cheong Kok to name a few are fully supported, full-time residential teachers. Indeed, where there is a resident Geshe and an MP graduate teaching in the same centre, the MP graduate's courses are just as or more popular (at least, this is the case in Vajrayana Institute and Vajrayogini Institute).

What it comes down to in many cases is, is the teacher appealing? Both Lharampa Geshes at the centre I teach in in Holland have good turnout to their classes,and a solid base of students. BUt I have translated for or attended classes with Lharampa Geshes who are can never seem to build up a steady group of students. A lot of it comes down to charisma, and the personality of the teacher. If the Geshe is humble and willing to relate to Westerners on their own terms, they may well be successful. If they insist on being an aloof scholar and Tibetan cultural norms, this could hinder them.

Similarly, the most successful Western teachers are the ones who are able to present the very traditional information they learned in a Western context. If their studies make them fundamentalists a teaching career will not be very successful.

In terms of the exclusive Gelug approach, I agree that if people stop after the MP and never explore other avenues, they are severely limiting themselves. But if, as is the case with Glen Svensson for example, those studies lead to a good foundation especially in basic Sutra Paramitayana Buddhism, then exploration of Mahamudra and Dzogchen would be greatly enriched by that knowledge.

The program in Ithaca, AFAIK, is excellent but has not produced any Western teachers with stable positions at dharma centres at all. I work at an FPMT centre but my first teachers were not affiliated with it. Ironically, the lack of any type of structure at their centres made FPMT an attractive option for me, as I wanted to learn a skill that would enable me to contribute to a centre as a monk and help me avoid having to work an outside job in robes.

As for the sectarianism, here in Holland I have translated weekend courses for Geshe SN on Words of My Perfect Teacher and Parting From the Four Attachments. Next month there will be Precious Garland of the Supreme Path Offered. Since arriving here the courses on actual texts taught by Geshe la have been in the majority covering texts outside the Gelug tradition.
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Re: Is the tulku system too exclusive?

Postby JKhedrup » Sat Dec 14, 2013 9:31 am

In terms of non-Gelug lamas being not on, FPMT has hosted HHST, the late Trulshik Rinpoche, the late Chobgye Trichen Rinpoche and Khandro la at its centres many times.

Lama Zopa funded for several years HHST initiations to a large number of monks and laypeople:

http://fpmt.org/projects/plf-news/april ... itiations/
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Re: Is the tulku system too exclusive?

Postby JKhedrup » Sat Dec 14, 2013 11:28 am

IN terms of MP and the like being elitest and relegating participation only to those from the right country or with enough money.... Hello...

University education is expensive! Especially in the US. The only really decent Tibetan language program is at the University of Virginia- as a Canadian if I attended I would be over $80,000 US in the hole at the moment. Instead, I took a two year course that was sponsored, and would only have put me out about $4,000 US for two years tuition.

An academic university education is something I would love but never be able to afford as a monk. My marks at UofT were decent but Master's level courses rarely have scholarships. In short, academia is one of the most elitest and least accessible ways to learn about Buddhism around, especially considering present-day cuts to liberal arts programs.

So to call the MP elitest and expensive may in some ways be true, but your argument fades when you then champion graduate studies which are more expensive several times over and similarly do not guarantee jobs to all their graduates.
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Re: Is the tulku system too exclusive?

Postby Alfredo » Sat Dec 14, 2013 11:52 am

Thank you, JKhedrup, for your reminiscences. I have plenty of biases (for or against all sorts of contradictory things), and am willing to be corrected. The FPMT, for all its faults, is one of the most respectable dharma-center franchises--otherwise I would not bother so much with my jeremiads.

In the 1990's, the LRZTP deal was this: two years of study in Dharamsala, followed by two years of service as an FPMT interpreter. Some people received funding from their centers for the first two years; otherwise they had to pay their own way. (Not everyone would live near such a center, or have good guanxi with its staff, or speak a desirable target language.) As a condition of enrollment, all students had to commit to two years of translation work, during which they were to receive some sort of modest stipend. I understand that this requirement was relaxed several years ago. The original arrangement also meant that all students had to be followers of Tibetan Buddhism; perhaps this too has changed.

In any case, here we are talking about an intensive language program. You obviously went into the program with a clear idea of your goals, however unremunerative they may have been (I certainly empathize!), and emerged with broadly-applicable knowledge and skills (at least within the world of Tibetan Buddhism). The MP does not incorporate language at all, although I understand that they offer summer intensives. Namgyal Ithaca and the FPMT's Maitripa College teach several years' worth of Tibetan, alongside courses in meditation and Buddhist philosophy (tenet systems). Their curricula might be described as a basic (though lengthy) survey of the terrain of Tibetan Buddhism, so of course this would not confer expertise, as a Ph.D. program would (or ought to--yes, I have heard stories similar to yours, about many languages).

Western teachers may sometimes be more popular (i.e., with the rank-and-file), but would you not agree that Tibetans receive more deference from the FPMT as an institution (i.e., from the top)?

In terms of cost, there is an immense range among doctoral programs, and a variety of arrangements within them.
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Re: Is the tulku system too exclusive?

Postby JKhedrup » Sat Dec 14, 2013 11:57 am

Western teachers may sometimes be more popular (i.e., with the rank-and-file), but would you not agree that Tibetans receive more deference from the FPMT as an institution (i.e., from the top)?


This is true. And like I said, many of your points are worth considering. Ironically though I connected with FPMT because it offered me opportunities my unaffiliated teachers could not- especially in terms of language learning.

University education is just so prohibitively expensive that anything beyond a BA (which parents helped with, as well as myself working as a wage slave at Chapters for incidental costs), would have made me to some degree a debt slave and my aspiration of ordination would have been impossible. Geshe SN has encouraged me many times to take up graduate study, as a way to secure a brighter future for myself- he said I could translate for him on weekends and study during the week.

Certainly this would be possible but with no money, no doors open. And to leave a very good student-teacher and teacher-interpreter relationship with a Geshe Lharampa who was formerly one of Sera Jey's most popular Petri Geygans (scripture teachers), from the spiritual POV is a serious business. How many geshes teaching in the West would put up with my constant questions and irreverence? A true mentor-student relationship with lots of time available, warmth and concern for the other's welfare from both sides, and capacity to serve others in the context of all of that is a rare gem indeed.
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Re: Is the tulku system too exclusive?

Postby Alfredo » Sat Dec 14, 2013 1:16 pm

Could you study at-a-distance through some European university (Humboldt-Berlin or Bonn, for instance)?

One issue that arises has to do with assumptions about what most people ought to do with their lives. Consider the following options:

1. Suicide
2. Renouncing the world, to live as a monk or yogi
3. Trying to become a rock star or Hollywood actor
4. Getting a Ph.D. in some humanities subject
5. Studying Buddhism as a layperson in some unaccredited dharma-center program, perhaps for many years
6. Pursuing a remunerative secular career
7. Getting married and/or having kids

How, then, should we live? Few would recommend (1). Some cultures and religions valorize (2), though individual decisions to take robes may still be contested by loved ones. There is a widespread, basic assumption to the effect that (6) and (7) represent the normal human life, allowing for necessary education, and perhaps a few years of sowing wild oats (or their spiritual equivalent). The notion that one might spend years following some path that does not promise secular benefits, to many, would seem almost as much of a throwing-away of one's life as (1). Imagine how parents of Hare Krishna devotees must feel, for example. And when one considers the long-term considerations of living a life close to the edge, without amassing financial resources or preparing for retirement, this makes something like the MP--which occupies some seven productive years--seem rather foolhardy for anyone who is not comfortably wealthy. Of course we must all make our own choices, and it's hard to tell people not to "follow their dream," even when their dream seems very impractical, but religions ought to take care of whole communities, not siphon off the resources of youth to the point where their long-term prospects are damaged. It's very much a question of balance--two or three years does not seem excessive, but seven or ten does, unless part of some sort of career path.

By contrast, I like the FPMT BP very much. It is just the sort of thing that a new-ish Buddhist would benefit from studying, and need not interfere too much with other life activities.
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Re: Is the tulku system too exclusive?

Postby Sherab Dorje » Sat Dec 14, 2013 2:36 pm

Karma Dorje wrote:
Sherab Dorje wrote:Why would westerners leave one "other power" system (Christianity) just to practice another?


Because "own-power" vs. "other-power" is not the only deciding factor perhaps?
Because of imprints from previous lives?

Own power vs. other power is just a matter of disposition and sometimes of mood. Some relate more to one or the other but there is tremendous variation within the each.
I agree. The question was more about questioning the logic of the statement.
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Re: Is the tulku system too exclusive?

Postby Sherab Dorje » Sat Dec 14, 2013 2:44 pm

Nighthawk wrote:
Sherab Dorje wrote:Why would westerners leave one "other power" system (Christianity) just to practice another?


What's your view on PL Buddhism? It seems like you have a lot of negativity towards it.
Some of my practices are Tibetan Buddhist Pureland practices. Having been brought up Greek Orthodox Christian (nearly becoming a priest), educated during my youth by Catholic Christian monks and having lived in Christian countries all my life, it is the "other power" aspect that doesn't sit well with me. I have to admit that I am quite enamored by Guru Rinpoches Pureland (Copper Coloured Mountain) though. Sounds like a cool place to hang in in for a few hundred lifetimes. Thing is though, for me, that everything that needs to be done (or not done), needs to be done right here and right now.
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One will be like a blind man who has no eyes."
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Re: Is the tulku system too exclusive?

Postby Tom » Sat Dec 14, 2013 3:04 pm

Alfredo wrote:How, then, should we live? Few would recommend (1). Some cultures and religions valorize (2), though individual decisions to take robes may still be contested by loved ones. There is a widespread, basic assumption to the effect that (6) and (7) represent the normal human life, allowing for necessary education, and perhaps a few years of sowing wild oats (or their spiritual equivalent). The notion that one might spend years following some path that does not promise secular benefits, to many, would seem almost as much of a throwing-away of one's life as (1). Imagine how parents of Hare Krishna devotees must feel, for example. And when one considers the long-term considerations of living a life close to the edge, without amassing financial resources or preparing for retirement, this makes something like the MP--which occupies some seven productive years--seem rather foolhardy for anyone who is not comfortably wealthy. Of course we must all make our own choices, and it's hard to tell people not to "follow their dream," even when their dream seems very impractical, but religions ought to take care of whole communities, not siphon off the resources of youth to the point where their long-term prospects are damaged. It's very much a question of balance--two or three years does not seem excessive, but seven or ten does, unless part of some sort of career path.


Your concern for all those wasting their lives in the FPMT and other such programs is rather heart warming. You may offer similar common sense fatherly life advice for those with dreams of music, art, sports etc. and it is not unreasonable advice but I think it is rather obvious that these programs are not for the mainstream.
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Re: Is the tulku system too exclusive?

Postby Malcolm » Sat Dec 14, 2013 3:15 pm

Alfredo wrote: but religions ought...not siphon off the resources...


But this is exactly what religions do. It is like asking a leopard to changes its spots to expect otherwise.

Anyway, Buddhist institutions are bipolar in terms of whether Buddhism is a religion or not. One minute Buddhist authors like Thinly Norbu Rinpoche is siding with theistic religions because Buddhism ought properly be grounded in "faith"; the next minute HHDL is telling us that Buddhism is scientific, and empirical verification is the standard Buddhism ought to be striving for.

In the end, it seems to me (and for many years, incidentally) that Buddhism is reeling from the knocks it is taking from its encounter with modernity.
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