Community in Western Buddhism

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Community in Western Buddhism

Postby Astus » Sun Mar 27, 2011 10:47 pm

This piece by James Ishmael Ford made me think:

"The thing that mostly concerned me, however, wasn’t doctrinal. The issue of whether there is rebirth or if each breath presents a new life leads to the same disciplines. The issue was that there just wasn’t much attention given to community in contemporary Western Zen. Oh, a tip of the hat here and there. But, if a Western Buddhist wanted a spiritual home for their kids, everyone I knew ended up in a UU church. If someone wanted a spiritual community as something more than a place to do the discipline, sort of like going to a spiritual gym, and then home, pretty much the only place where I could go that didn’t contradict the parts of Zen I found useful and true, turned out to be at the local UU church. Bottom line I wanted full spiritual community, and there was precious little at the local Zen center. I found it instead at the UU church. My goodness, I did. But, I also got something more. In fact much more."
A RELIGION FOR OUR TIMES: The Case for a Buddhist Unitarian Universalism

What do you think? What is your experience?
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Re: Community in Western Buddhism

Postby lukejmo » Sat May 21, 2011 11:25 am

This resonates with me, unfortunately. Maybe it's because I didn't spend enough time getting to know people, becoming familiar, I don't know. But every time I go to a new dharma center, I feel like I've just entered a conversation that I'm not really a part of. There's that same awkward combination of politeness and wariness. Contrast that with going to a church, or even a synagogue. Maybe they're too welcoming (evangelistic, that is) but they do make an effort to foster a sense of belonging.

Like Ford said, dharma centers seem more like meditation gyms. Actually, that's an unfair comparison. To gyms. Gyms are WAY more warm and inviting than many dharma centers I've been to. In the gym, I feel pretty comfortable going up to one of the 300 pound muscle-heads and asking about proper squat form. Yet I honestly think I'd feel less comfortable asking a 100 pound Buddhist lady about shamata. Something is seriously wrong there. This is coming from the perspective of an outsider, but I really don't see a lot of genuine human warmth in the centers I've been to.

I think this is an important issue, and a big short-coming for Buddhism in the West. I'm surprised this has been up for almost a month and no one's said anything.
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Re: Community in Western Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Sat May 21, 2011 1:06 pm

Back in Canada at the temple I used to frequent I enjoyed a lot of fellowship.

Evening sessions were always followed by cake, cookies and chai. Sunday afternoons likewise. Vesak and Losar were a lot of fun, too. Just going the day before and preparing all the food with everyone cultivated friendship and made for good spirits. There were a lot of fund raising activities and that meant volunteer work. Everything from kitchen duties to clean up.

On the other hand, I also experienced a lot of friction with some older ladies in the group who had their own ideas about guru devotion and politeness. There were conflicts between the older generation and the younger group. Still, that comes with any community and it goes to show people were interacting rather than ignoring each other or just being cordial.

I think the group was quite approachable and open, though it was easy to step on some toes.
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Re: Community in Western Buddhism

Postby David N. Snyder » Sat May 21, 2011 9:44 pm

lukejmo wrote:Like Ford said, dharma centers seem more like meditation gyms. Actually, that's an unfair comparison. To gyms. Gyms are WAY more warm and inviting than many dharma centers I've been to. In the gym, I feel pretty comfortable going up to one of the 300 pound muscle-heads and asking about proper squat form. Yet I honestly think I'd feel less comfortable asking a 100 pound Buddhist lady about shamata. Something is seriously wrong there. This is coming from the perspective of an outsider, but I really don't see a lot of genuine human warmth in the centers I've been to.

I think this is an important issue, and a big short-coming for Buddhism in the West. I'm surprised this has been up for almost a month and no one's said anything.


Yes, it is very important and I think it has been said some where that it may even decide whether Buddhism truly takes root in the West or becomes a passing fad.

I think it has improved in some cases. In peer-led groups there is often a tea and cookie time after the meditation and talk. But there is still more to do.
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Re: Community in Western Buddhism

Postby Paul » Sun May 22, 2011 7:03 am

There's a very strong community at the group I go to. But like most things, you get out what you put in. If you give time and effort then you will help build the community you want.
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Re: Community in Western Buddhism

Postby purplelotus » Sun May 22, 2011 9:18 am

I have been involved with two sanghas and found both cold and unfriendly. Initially I thought this was due to practising non attachment but I always found that they could be quite friendly when they wanted something. The first sangha I was involved with for 12 years. I had to take a prolonged leave of absence due to ill health in the family and my own ill health. Not one person contacted me when I left the centre so I never returned. I don't think that is due to non attachment its just bad manners.

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Re: Community in Western Buddhism

Postby tamdrin » Sun May 22, 2011 1:05 pm

I have noticed that Buddhists can make the worst friends.. Why? I think it is because in general they are trying to practice some idea of non attachment. The more serious ones may disappear onto retreat for months on end every year, without warning, so they are unlikely to return phone calls or want to meet up to chat etc.. Just my observation that this is not just some phenomenon I experience.
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Re: Community in Western Buddhism

Postby Dechen Norbu » Sun May 22, 2011 3:26 pm

Buddhists can also be very good friends. It depends on our expectations and the individual processes our friends are going through.
Having in mind the context surrounding friendship among Buddhists, one is expected to understand if a friend leaves for retreat. Not having said anything in advance may be due to a lot o reasons, but we can surely understand the benefits of retreat. If a Buddhist friend of mine goes for retreat, I would be very happy, not mattering if he doesn't return my phone calls.

It's also natural that "hanging out" with them doesn't feel the same. And it's natural that now and then they go through tough phases, as meditation does that to you on occasion. Some deal with it while keeping a balanced social life while others do not, needing some time for themselves. As friends, as Buddhist friends, we should understand it.

My experience is a bit more like enjoying it a lot when we are together and when we part ways we don't leave craving for the next time. A phone call or an email now and then and that's enough. When possible, we visit. Sometimes weekly, sometimes monthly, sometimes years pass. The friendship remains.
We usually approach relations in a very needy way. This is what usually doesn't work so well with people engaged in serious practice. :smile:

Dharma centers are a different issue altogether. When I speak about Buddhist friends, I mean people I know well, practitioners, people who have at least a good grasp of the basics and are engaged in practice. Dharma centers, sometimes and not all, are filled with all sorts of strange people, that I would hardly call Buddhists. There are Buddhists there, of course, a small minority. But then you also have the usual poseurs, all sorts of freaks who try to adapt Dharma to their views, people with serious psychological issues dealt in the wrong way, all_religion_is_the_same sort of guys and what not. Now, it doesn't really matter where one comes from if one is going to practice the Dharma. But this assumes that one will indeed practice the Dharma, instead of just adding a shinny Buddhist layer to one's ego, or just spending the time gossiping, or trying others to accept personal corruptions of the teachings and so on and so forth.

It was Dzongsar Khyentse who said that we need a healthy ego to destroy our attachment to it? I think so, but if it wasn't him, it was some other reputable lama.
And we must remember that in the West most balanced and well adjusted people don't become Buddhists. Why would they? They feel they have achieved most of what they wanted in life. :smile:

It's a bit like physics students in Portugal. You have the few ones who choose to graduate in physics and the ones who ended up there because you don't need high grades. Then you have few terrific students and a mass of lousy students, with little in the middle. Most Buddhists I've met were either a little dumb or pretty much above the average. Many had serious issues, while others were very balanced, usually the ones who ended up engaging in practice. We don't see many Namdrols in our sanghas. Or Pema Rigdzins, Anders, Astus, Husengs and so on. There are many others around, but you get my point.

Perhaps this is why these "Buddhists" you talked about don't make very good friends. They wouldn't make good friends if they weren't Buddhists all the same, because they're people who have their heads all messed up. And I don't know if becoming Buddhists will make it better...
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Re: Community in Western Buddhism

Postby Madeliaette » Sun May 22, 2011 5:16 pm

I would be interested to know if there is much difference between Buddhist Temples and Buddhist Centers in the West in regard to community - is there a strengh in one but not the other? Also, is there much difference dependent upon which tradition of Buddhism is followed?
(I have not had much experience personally, as I keep getting my life into situations where I am internet-dependent for my sangha-interactions, so I am curious...)
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Re: Community in Western Buddhism

Postby Gharchaina » Sun May 22, 2011 7:19 pm

Astus wrote:This piece by James Ishmael Ford made me think:

"The thing that mostly concerned me, however, wasn’t doctrinal. The issue of whether there is rebirth or if each breath presents a new life leads to the same disciplines. The issue was that there just wasn’t much attention given to community in contemporary Western Zen. Oh, a tip of the hat here and there. But, if a Western Buddhist wanted a spiritual home for their kids, everyone I knew ended up in a UU church. If someone wanted a spiritual community as something more than a place to do the discipline, sort of like going to a spiritual gym, and then home, pretty much the only place where I could go that didn’t contradict the parts of Zen I found useful and true, turned out to be at the local UU church. Bottom line I wanted full spiritual community, and there was precious little at the local Zen center. I found it instead at the UU church. My goodness, I did. But, I also got something more. In fact much more."
A RELIGION FOR OUR TIMES: The Case for a Buddhist Unitarian Universalism

What do you think? What is your experience?


If there is no community -- the Dharma will not survive in the West. Centers need to be community and family friendly. Those pot lucks are important. Sunday School is important. Parents with young children will not come, or will come only sporadically if there is no one to look after their kids and maybe teach them a little Dharma, while Mom and Pop, reestablish their center.
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Re: Community in Western Buddhism

Postby Heruka » Sun May 22, 2011 7:40 pm

tamdrin wrote:I have noticed that Buddhists can make the worst friends..


funny and true.

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Re: Community in Western Buddhism

Postby Heruka » Sun May 22, 2011 7:50 pm

Astus wrote:. The issue was that there just wasn’t much attention given to community in contemporary ............

What do you think? What is your experience?


Why does buddhism need structure and the establishment of another establishment? why do buddhists get "concerned" about that stuff?
Why the need for some to create some type of bueno vista buddhist social club?

is it people need somewhere to go?
maybe to get away from the kids/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend/mom/pop/family/boss/job.......whatever?

why should someone elses neurosis become everybody elses " just wasnt much attention given to.."

i dont get it.

:shrug:
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Re: Community in Western Buddhism

Postby Gharchaina » Sun May 22, 2011 8:06 pm

Heruka wrote:
Astus wrote:. The issue was that there just wasn’t much attention given to community in contemporary ............

What do you think? What is your experience?


Why does buddhism need structure and the establishment of another establishment? why do buddhists get "concerned" about that stuff?
Why the need for some to create some type of bueno vista buddhist social club?

is it people need somewhere to go?
maybe to get away from the kids/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend/mom/pop/family/boss/job.......whatever?

why should someone elses neurosis become everybody elses " just wasnt much attention given to.."

i dont get it.

:shrug:


Because Buddhism exists in time and space. Without social institutions to ensure its transmission from generation to generation it will cease to exist. Without the fourfold Sangha and the social relations it entails, the social and institutional supports it provides, the economic support it generates, Buddhism will fade into an abstraction for history of religion courses.
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Re: Community in Western Buddhism

Postby Heruka » Sun May 22, 2011 8:18 pm

Gharchaina wrote: Without social institutions to ensure its transmission from generation to generation it will cease to exist.


The buddha taught that all things that are gathered and brought together, over time, scatter and fall apart, even the dharma.
Mahayanists have told us that when this occurs, a buddha in waiting called maitreya will bring a new dharma for another cycle of boom and bust.

:shrug:

who knows for sure?
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Re: Community in Western Buddhism

Postby Gharchaina » Sun May 22, 2011 8:32 pm

Heruka wrote:
Gharchaina wrote: Without social institutions to ensure its transmission from generation to generation it will cease to exist.


The buddha taught that all things that are gathered and brought together, over time, scatter and fall apart, even the dharma.
Mahayanists have told us that when this occurs, a buddha in waiting called maitreya will bring a new dharma for another cycle of boom and bust.

:shrug:

who knows for sure?


The Maitreya tradition is not limited to the Mahayana, but that aside I can't take such a transolympian view. The Buddha also taught that as long as there were virtuous practitioners that the Dharma would not disappear. Given that the Buddha also taught that the Fourfold Assembly was essential to the well-being of the Dharma and its practitioners, I will do all that I can to ensure its long life and its transmission to the West. I, for one, do not wish to live or be reborn in a time and place where there is no Dharma.
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Re: Community in Western Buddhism

Postby Heruka » Sun May 22, 2011 8:35 pm

Gharchaina wrote: Given that the Buddha also taught that the Fourfold Assembly was essential to the well-being of the Dharma and its practitioners, I will do all that I can to ensure its long life and its transmission to the West. I, for one, do not wish to live or be reborn in a time and place where there is no Dharma.


Sounds great!

good for you and all the best.

:namaste:
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Re: Community in Western Buddhism

Postby PadmaVonSamba » Mon May 23, 2011 12:35 am

A few years ago, Tricycle magazine published an article which (all opinions aside) made an interesting point: Until the observance of the events of birth, marriage and death become routine functions of buddhist organizations in the west, those organizations will remain marginal. Whether one considers the sangha a kind of 'church' or not, churches now fulfill this need (through baptisms, weddings and funerals). While the Buddha never told people to go out and start performing wedding ceremonies, this seems to be, in the west at least, an important part of 'community'. Until that happens, as the article suggests, Buddhists groups will more often fall into the category of the self-help center. I will try to find the article if requested. My old magazines are boxed and stored someplace.
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Re: Community in Western Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Mon May 23, 2011 2:03 am

PadmaVonSamba wrote:A few years ago, Tricycle magazine published an article which (all opinions aside) made an interesting point: Until the observance of the events of birth, marriage and death become routine functions of buddhist organizations in the west, those organizations will remain marginal. Whether one considers the sangha a kind of 'church' or not, churches now fulfill this need (through baptisms, weddings and funerals). While the Buddha never told people to go out and start performing wedding ceremonies, this seems to be, in the west at least, an important part of 'community'. Until that happens, as the article suggests, Buddhists groups will more often fall into the category of the self-help center. I will try to find the article if requested. My old magazines are boxed and stored someplace.


Japanese Buddhist institutions were not doing weddings until the Meiji period when they saw churches performing that function in society.

Marriage is actually contrary to what the Buddha taught. Feelings and attachment to family are hindrances to liberation.

However, I don't think you can convince most people, whether it be in the west or in Asia, of that truth.

Perhaps Buddhism can utilize an alternative model of community building without Christian influences. Perhaps not.
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Re: Community in Western Buddhism

Postby lukejmo » Mon May 23, 2011 7:47 am

Huseng wrote:
PadmaVonSamba wrote:A few years ago, Tricycle magazine published an article which (all opinions aside) made an interesting point: Until the observance of the events of birth, marriage and death become routine functions of buddhist organizations in the west, those organizations will remain marginal. Whether one considers the sangha a kind of 'church' or not, churches now fulfill this need (through baptisms, weddings and funerals). While the Buddha never told people to go out and start performing wedding ceremonies, this seems to be, in the west at least, an important part of 'community'. Until that happens, as the article suggests, Buddhists groups will more often fall into the category of the self-help center. I will try to find the article if requested. My old magazines are boxed and stored someplace.


Japanese Buddhist institutions were not doing weddings until the Meiji period when they saw churches performing that function in society.

Marriage is actually contrary to what the Buddha taught. Feelings and attachment to family are hindrances to liberation.

However, I don't think you can convince most people, whether it be in the west or in Asia, of that truth.

Perhaps Buddhism can utilize an alternative model of community building without Christian influences. Perhaps not.


What would be a viable alternative? Is it necessary to have zero Christian influences? It seems to me Christians are really good at some things (like the above mentioned lifetime rituals, etc). Marriage, for instance, may not have been encouraged over the monastic life, but Buddha also had a lot to say to those who stayed lay-followers. Having a ceremony conducted under Buddhist auspices, wouldn't that help foster a family based around contemplation, dana, etc? The more I think about it, the less I understand your post...
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Re: Community in Western Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Mon May 23, 2011 8:24 am

lukejmo wrote:What would be a viable alternative? Is it necessary to have zero Christian influences? It seems to me Christians are really good at some things (like the above mentioned lifetime rituals, etc). Marriage, for instance, may not have been encouraged over the monastic life, but Buddha also had a lot to say to those who stayed lay-followers. Having a ceremony conducted under Buddhist auspices, wouldn't that help foster a family based around contemplation, dana, etc? The more I think about it, the less I understand your post...


Unlike in Christianity where marriage is seen as a sacred union, the Buddha specifically said attachment to family and children is like leaping into the jaws of a tiger. It is quite dangerous.

The viable alternative is running things the way they were run in the original culture of whichever tradition a temple belongs to. In most cases that means supporting the monastics is the primary activity of the lay community. It inevitably brings people together and fosters fellowship.
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