Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby JKhedrup » Tue Oct 02, 2012 9:23 pm

The texts actually just say not speaking of the faults of renunciates (like seeing a monk drinking, you're not supposed to broadcast it to everyone as it harms the well-being of the sangha and community), though it doesn't say you can't challenge them on their opinions and criticize their statements. However, it isn't described like this at all. Criticism, both internal and external, is disdained and discouraged.

You have teachers tell people from the start to empty their cup and not have preconceived notions when listening to a teaching. This isn't a wise approach with critically thinking people who would much rather be able to debate and reason with a teacher rather than simply taking it all on faith or with a blank mind. Especially if you're addressing people who arn't entirely convinced about whatever it is you have to say.


This very point is what made me want to re-immerse myself in the Tibetan Tradition. I missed the conversations with my teachers where they challenged me to challenge them.

When I translate classes, Geshe la often begs for questions. When there aren't any he often says "better ask some questions otherwise I'll just read the text." When challenged and prodded, even to the point of argument, he and many of the well studied Geshes I have come to know are completely in their element. For them, the interaction during the Q&A segment is often their favourite part. Geshe la told me he learns new things from the students, and is motivated to continue his own investigation of the teachings due in part to these interactions.

This lively banter back and forth is something that I missed while in Taiwan and Thailand, though those traditions certainly have their strength. Maybe being such a big talker myself the Gelug tradition is a good fit for me! If I'm going to natter on about something it might be good if it is dharma. :D

(It is also maybe a weakness, like how I was interacting on the forum today for the equal amount of time I spent on preparing a text for the weekend. Have to be more disciplined tomorrow!)
In order to ensure my mind never comes under the power of the self-cherishing attitude,
I must obtain control over my own mind.
Therefore, amongst all empowerments, the empowerment that gives me control over my mind is the best,
and I have received the most profound empowerment with this teaching.
-Atisha Dipamkara
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby Dechen Norbu » Tue Oct 02, 2012 9:39 pm

That's very cool JKhedrup, having a teacher like that, I mean. :thumbsup:
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby Thus-gone » Tue Oct 02, 2012 11:27 pm

Huseng wrote:
kirtu wrote:That's true but in Zen Buddhism there are people who achieve some attainment in this lifetime. In Pure Land Buddhism there are people who shows signs of attainment after death.


I don't deny that, but in Mahāyāna the idea of full buddhahood in a single lifetime is not generally part of the plan. Early Indian Mahāyāna was clear about this as well.



Because Zen is predicated on transmission outside of scripture, general Mahayana texts do not have much bearing on the actual practice. The goal of Zen is Buddhahood in a single lifetime; more precisely, the goal is Buddhahood in a single instant. The Bodhisattva ideal works as a conceptual barrier to purify the intention of practitioners - it is not the final goal in Zen. I believe that the popularity of both Zen and TB in the West is in large part a result of their combined emphasis on both heroic compassion and personal liberation. In ancient India, the aspiration to Buddhahood arose out of anxiety concerning perpetual rebirth, which leaves a lot of room for practice over many lifetimes. In the contemporary west, I believe the desire for liberation arises in many out of anxiety concerning lack of rebirth, aka fear of death, which makes gradual-style paths less appealing.
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby Dechen Norbu » Tue Oct 02, 2012 11:44 pm

Most people who think they'll attain Buddhahood in a single life time are day dreaming, whatever the school they follow. Sorry to spoil the party.
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby kirtu » Wed Oct 03, 2012 12:55 am

Dechen Norbu wrote:Most people who think they'll attain Buddhahood in a single life time are day dreaming, whatever the school they follow. Sorry to spoil the party.


However many people can attain the lower paths in one lifetime.

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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby Kaji » Wed Oct 03, 2012 1:01 am

Dechen Norbu wrote:Most people who think they'll attain Buddhahood in a single life time are day dreaming, whatever the school they follow. Sorry to spoil the party.

That is actually the aim of Pure Land practice. Well, it is like a dream coming true, so yeah call it day-dreaming or whatever ;)
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby Indrajala » Wed Oct 03, 2012 1:14 am

JKhedrup wrote:This very point is what made me want to re-immerse myself in the Tibetan Tradition. I missed the conversations with my teachers where they challenged me to challenge them.


If Buddhism is to thrive in the western world I think we need to emulate this. Hard questions, debate and challenges.

It won't suffice to expect people to come with their palms joined together to venerate and never question the Dharma teachers.

However, there is in much of the Buddhist world an expectation that laity know little and it is the responsibility of renunciates to teach them. It comes across as arrogant to have laity outright challenge and question in public the views held by a monk. Maybe it comes across as divisive and hostile, when it really isn't. Many are emotionally and materially invested in their masters especially, so in such a climate to just disagree with them or say they're mistaken about something won't go over well with many people.

In East Asia there is the whole idea of "face" as well. To refute someone in public makes them lose face and consequently their disciples likewise lose face. It isn't so much that you demonstrated a faulty statement of theirs, but just how you went about doing it.

That's a huge cultural difference, though it translates into a less interesting and thought provoking environment for outsiders.

One thing I've appreciated about speaking with many Tibetan monks is they'll tell me to my face I'm wrong. I appreciate honesty.
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby Indrajala » Wed Oct 03, 2012 1:18 am

Thus-gone wrote:In the contemporary west, I believe the desire for liberation arises in many out of anxiety concerning lack of rebirth, aka fear of death, which makes gradual-style paths less appealing.


If you don't have any conviction in rebirth, then death means the utter cessation of all subjective existence and suffering. Death becomes your liberation and if your suffering becomes too unbearable death is an easy exit from it.
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby Dechen Norbu » Wed Oct 03, 2012 1:27 am

Kaji wrote:
Dechen Norbu wrote:Most people who think they'll attain Buddhahood in a single life time are day dreaming, whatever the school they follow. Sorry to spoil the party.

That is actually the aim of Pure Land practice. Well, it is like a dream coming true, so yeah call it day-dreaming or whatever ;)

Isn't after death that one is reborn in a Pure Land, then completing the path up to Buddhahood? I see many practitioners, but very few Buddhas. How come is that then? ;)
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby Dechen Norbu » Wed Oct 03, 2012 1:29 am

Huseng wrote:
Thus-gone wrote:In the contemporary west, I believe the desire for liberation arises in many out of anxiety concerning lack of rebirth, aka fear of death, which makes gradual-style paths less appealing.


If you don't have any conviction in rebirth, then death means the utter cessation of all subjective existence and suffering. Death becomes your liberation and if your suffering becomes too unbearable death is an easy exit from it.

Exactly.
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby Kaji » Wed Oct 03, 2012 5:41 am

Dechen Norbu wrote:Isn't after death that one is reborn in a Pure Land, then completing the path up to Buddhahood? I see many practitioners, but very few Buddhas. How come is that then? ;)

No, from what I understand and have learned, with proper and diligent practice you go to the Pure Land alive, without dying. It just so happens that this normally occurs near when your body's time is up.

I myself don't see too many practitioners that are truly dedicated to Pure Land (but that is probably because I don't hang out enough with any Buddhist communities, anyway...) Now, many of us humans do not see Buddha and Maha-Bodhisattva on a daily basis, yet we know there are countless of them all over the place. From what I understand it is due to our own problem that we cannot see them, not because they are not there. Besides, it take a long time for most people to become Buddha after their rebirth in the Pure Land - it just happens during the single lifetime that is very long, "infinite life"...
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby Rakshasa » Wed Oct 03, 2012 6:35 am

Vajrayana is a Siddha tradition and a product of walking this path is the various Siddhis. Perhaps the westerners are attracted to Siddhis?

When Buddhism spread to China, Tibet, Japan etc, it only adapted the cultural colour on the surface, but the practice and doctrine remained intact in the form as they began in India. It was the Chinese, Tibetan, Japanese etc people who adapted to this new religion. This was the reason for its success in these countries.

In the west, AFAIK, there is a strong tendency that Buddhism should adapt to the western cultural context otherwise it should be rejected. Sorry if I sound offensive (trust me it is an honest opinion), I believe that a considerable westerners may have taken interest in Tibetan Buddhism because of "Tantric sex" also.
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby Kaji » Wed Oct 03, 2012 7:48 am

Rakshasa wrote:Vajrayana is a Siddha tradition and a product of walking this path is the various Siddhis. Perhaps the westerners are attracted to Siddhis?

When Buddhism spread to China, Tibet, Japan etc, it only adapted the cultural colour on the surface, but the practice and doctrine remained intact in the form as they began in India. It was the Chinese, Tibetan, Japanese etc people who adapted to this new religion. This was the reason for its success in these countries.

In the west, AFAIK, there is a strong tendency that Buddhism should adapt to the western cultural context otherwise it should be rejected. Sorry if I sound offensive (trust me it is an honest opinion), I believe that a considerable westerners may have taken interest in Tibetan Buddhism because of "Tantric sex" also.

This is a great point. I understand Buddhism is very comprehensive, encompassing and accommodating that it can be suited to a lot of cultures.

It is taught that a key factor Buddhism was so successfully introduced and spread in China is that it resonates well with Confucianism, as the two share a lot of virtues, particularly filial piety. As a result, Buddhism joined Confucianism and Daoism as the major schools of thoughts in the mainstream Chinese culture. They are known as the "Three Teachings". One cannot really understand the deeper aspects of the traditional Chinese culture without some level of knowledge in the three.

It is also of interest that Daoism also has a lot of similarities with Buddhism. Daoism as an evolving religion and school of thoughts has incorporated certain knowledge of Buddhism into itself. Esoteric Buddhism (from the earlier years, without the later additions that has formed Tibetian Buddhism) and Daoism share a lot of principles and practices, such as using the body as an important instrument of practice. A number of Daoists are also Buddhists.

In the early years of the Qing Dynasty, Buddhism flourished and was heavily promoted by the royal court. It is very unfortunate that the rulers in the later years of the dynasty did not continue that, and then there was the Cultural Revolution. If these did not happen, Chinese Buddhism might have been a very different story today.
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby joda » Wed Oct 03, 2012 8:55 am

Huseng wrote:I'm going to go out on a limb here and ask a question I've been pondering for awhile.

Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular in the western world than, say, Zen, Chan, Tendai, Pure Land, Seon or any other form of contemporary Mahāyāna? I'll set Theravada aside as it is in a different realm. Basically, why is Tibetan Buddhism proportionately more popular than East Asian traditions?


a) Distorted view of Tibet as a peaceful wonderland of spirituality

b) Its a nice RPG. You get a new role, a new name, you can learn secret teachings, magical spells, you can join different factions and you can even level up.

Comparing to Pureland - it probably reminds people too much of Christianity, while Vajrayana has this philosophical complexity that makes people think theres more to it than just belief.
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby JKhedrup » Wed Oct 03, 2012 9:40 am

That's very cool JKhedrup, having a teacher like that, I mean.


I count my blessings to be able to work with Geshe la. He is definitely a cut above in terms of his knowledge and modest conduct. I have other teachers who are more senior, have official titles etc. And who have been very kind. But in terms of imparting knowledge of the dharma, and patience with my faults, Geshe la has been the kindest.

a) Distorted view of Tibet as a peaceful wonderland of spirituality


While this is true and the view is not accurate, you will find a similar type of idealism by practitioners of Theravada Buddhism about the "peaceful, happy" people of Thailand, for example. And many Chinese Buddhists have told me it is only in China that the Buddha's teachings came to full fruition because they were "refined" by their contact with Confucianism and Chinese culture, leading to a more effective panacea for beings.

b) Its a nice RPG. You get a new role, a new name, you can learn secret teachings, magical spells, you can join different factions and you can even level up.

Yes, but for example in the Japanese based Zen tradition you get a special apron if you have transmissions. In Chinese Buddhism practitioner sit in the Buddha hall according to seniority, there are those who wear the haiqing, and people who wear the haiqing with bodhisattva precept sash.

Comparing to Pureland - it probably reminds people too much of Christianity, while Vajrayana has this philosophical complexity that makes people think theres more to it than just belief.


Faith definitely plays a huge part in both Pure Land and Vajrayana, I agree with you completely. I do have to say that in terms of Chinese Buddhism, I found the Pure Land practitioners to be the warmest, most humble and very sincere. I have nice memories of joining in the chanting of the Amitabha sutra and his holy name while doing "walking meditation".
In order to ensure my mind never comes under the power of the self-cherishing attitude,
I must obtain control over my own mind.
Therefore, amongst all empowerments, the empowerment that gives me control over my mind is the best,
and I have received the most profound empowerment with this teaching.
-Atisha Dipamkara
brtsal ba'i bkhra drin
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby Indrajala » Wed Oct 03, 2012 1:45 pm

joda wrote:a) Distorted view of Tibet as a peaceful wonderland of spirituality

b) Its a nice RPG. You get a new role, a new name, you can learn secret teachings, magical spells, you can join different factions and you can even level up.

Comparing to Pureland - it probably reminds people too much of Christianity, while Vajrayana has this philosophical complexity that makes people think theres more to it than just belief.


Interesting comparison.

I wonder if the social element isn't what really draws people in. Join the Gelug-pa and you have to defend Tsong Khapa against Gorampa. Which Karmapa will you support? How are you connected to the senior Lamas?

As you say there are of course titles and certifications which garner respect.

You maybe don't see that as much with East Asian traditions. Japanese traditions used to have strong sectarianism, but this isn't really an issue anymore.
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby Indrajala » Wed Oct 03, 2012 1:56 pm

JKhedrup wrote:While this is true and the view is not accurate, you will find a similar type of idealism by practitioners of Theravada Buddhism about the "peaceful, happy" people of Thailand, for example. And many Chinese Buddhists have told me it is only in China that the Buddha's teachings came to full fruition because they were "refined" by their contact with Confucianism and Chinese culture, leading to a more effective panacea for beings.


This is the natural result of idealization (a common tendency in religions) and cultural identities. People become emotionally invested in some culture, which may not even be their own, and will suffer no threat against their mirage. This happens a lot with young people who study Japanese and watch a lot of anime before actually going there and seeing it is just a daily grind like anywhere else.

This is what happens when we become emotionally attached to abstract constructions like cultures.
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby Astus » Wed Oct 03, 2012 3:55 pm

" here we are in 2012 and in Soto Zen, 22% of the respondents to a recent survey of dharma successors were over 70 years old. Almost 50% were between 60-69. Only 7% were in their 40s.

Now I like old people as much as the next person. I’ll be one soon myself. So I’m not hating old people here, just saying that when you’ve got 70% of your denomination’s priests over 60 years old (aka, Boomers and beyond), then you might have a problem."


Read the full article: Zen is Going to Hell and It’s the Boomers’ Fault!
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby PorkChop » Wed Oct 03, 2012 6:08 pm

Rakshasa wrote:In the west, AFAIK, there is a strong tendency that Buddhism should adapt to the western cultural context otherwise it should be rejected. Sorry if I sound offensive (trust me it is an honest opinion), I believe that a considerable westerners may have taken interest in Tibetan Buddhism because of "Tantric sex" also.


Maybe I'm ignorant or naive, but I never made the association between "Tantric sex" and Tibetan Buddhism's "Tantric yoga".
I remember it (Tibetan Buddhism) entering my social consciousness first with the movies & movie stars, followed then by HH the Dalai Lama.

I know that the US is not the sum-total of the West, but for the purposes of this post, I will have to stick with what I know.
As far as making Buddhism adapt to the western cultural context, I think there's a pretty short list of things that tend to lead to success integration in the US for any religion:
1. Well-explained theory. This is especially true for people who were raised in other faiths, they prioritize joining something with a theory of the cosmos (for lack of a better phrase) that makes sense.
2. Well-explained ritual. During the service or practice, people like to know what they're doing and why.
3. Well-explained ethics. Whether you call them "commandments", or "self-initiated vows"; if a certain code of conduct is encouraged, people like to know what it is and why they're doing it.
4. The ability to fit all of the above in the average person's daily life.

With #1 - Anatta & understanding re-birth are harder concepts for Americans I believe, than Sunyata (at least given my current pitiful levels of understanding).
With #2 - The practices of offerings & prayers to Buddhas & Boddhisattvas needs to be handled in a way that resonates with the target audience. Again, for people raised other faiths, there needs to be an extra emphasis on explaining things in a way that they can get behind.
With #3 - The first precept will probably be the hardest. I live in Texas where people pride themselves on their independence, their guns, and their beef. It will be hard to explain to the average Joe here that it's not ideal to shoot an intruder on sight, let alone not to go hunting, fishing, or squash every little bug they come in contact with. Not that it's necessarily a requirement for Buddhism, but vegetarianism is considered anti-social behavior here and is only popular in counter-culture havens like Austin, or in immigrant communities.
With #4 - Renunciation has a long history in the US, going back to the first settlers and the Quakers. Unfortunately, in the modern day, renunciation is largely on the decline in this country. In fact, there's actually a certain level of distrust for renunciates; especially in the wake of certain sex scandals.

I think most of these issues have an established precedent in existing Buddhist literature.
The first 2 issues are just proper translation and explanation.
The third issue might be the most difficult, but certain countries where Buddhism has flourished have already dealt with this (some better than others).
The fourth issue has precedent dating back to the many examples of householders in the Pali Sutras. Maybe a valid approach could provide renunciation as the eventual goal, but allow for householders to handle the lion's share of community establishment & interaction. I mean, it's hard to have monks with nobody to fill their begging bowls.
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby Thus-gone » Wed Oct 03, 2012 6:45 pm

Huseng wrote:If you don't have any conviction in rebirth, then death means the utter cessation of all subjective existence and suffering. Death becomes your liberation and if your suffering becomes too unbearable death is an easy exit from it.



This is a rational thought process, but death-anxiety is not rational - it's a symptom of repressing one's own groundlessness. It seems clear to me that this anxiety is a huge driving force in the West's adoption of new spiritual forms with promises of personal liberation from birth and death. If rebirth were a more established belief in Western culture, or if scientific materialism were not as prevalent an ideology, practices like Pure Land would be more attractive.
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