Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby Kaji » Mon Oct 01, 2012 3:54 pm

Huseng wrote:That's largely because Daoist masters are not really found outside their native culture and most of the literature has never been translated or even thoroughly studied in English.

...which are similar reasons to why Chinese Buddhism isn't so popular in the West.

If only I have the influence, power or money (plus freedom) to start projects to translate Taisho into English, especially for sutra and other texts not found elsewhere... People have tried to do that in the past, but only with limited scope (as far as I know). Perhaps more empowerment is needed?
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby Indrajala » Mon Oct 01, 2012 3:55 pm

Kaji wrote:
Huseng wrote:I don't think the technical side of Vajrayāna is what makes TB more popular. It seems more to do with more basic features and cultural appeal.

A side note... Empowerment, mysticism and the technical side may not be what make Tibetian Buddhism more popular in the West, but they are certainly what makes Esoteric Buddhism more appealing to some Buddhist followers in the East. Unfortunately some people have used those aspects for personal gains, some even illegal... I don't know if this is an issue in the West with Tibetian Buddhism.


Perhaps it is the promise of rapid, powerful and profound results from the practice.

In the case of Mahāyāna you are told in no uncertain terms your career as a bodhisattva will take many many lifetimes.
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby Kaji » Mon Oct 01, 2012 3:59 pm

Huseng wrote:Perhaps it is the promise of rapid, powerful and profound results from the practice.

In the case of Mahāyāna you are told in no uncertain terms your career as a bodhisattva will take many many lifetimes.

Errr with Pure Land practice I intend to have no more lifetime after this one. But yeah, I see your point - who wants to wait till their time is about up to tell if they've made it, all the time doing one simple *ahem boring ahem* thing that's stereotypically done usually by old women at their boring homes, and oh without many promises of supernatural powers nor much worldly gains in the process...
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby Indrajala » Mon Oct 01, 2012 4:01 pm

Kaji wrote:
Huseng wrote:That's largely because Daoist masters are not really found outside their native culture and most of the literature has never been translated or even thoroughly studied in English.

...which are similar reasons to why Chinese Buddhism isn't so popular in the West.

If only I have the influence, power or money (plus freedom) to start projects to translate Taisho into English, especially for sutra and other texts not found elsewhere... People have tried to do that in the past, but only with limited scope (as far as I know). Perhaps more empowerment is needed?


It is happening, just not on a wide co-ordinated scale. There is the money for it. As a scholar in the field I can tell you that the money for such a project would be possible, but we don't have the people. A lot of scholars don't want to do lengthy translations even if you are willing to pay them. It doesn't count for tenure credit, and most often they're too busy with other tasks like teaching and their own research and writing.

Even if you translated a lot of the material into English, though, you still wouldn't have many Chinese Buddhist teachers who demonstrate a dedicated interest in spreading Dharma into the west. There are plenty of Chinese temples in western cities, but they're not necessarily open to non-Chinese. This is actually the biggest hurdle with Chinese Buddhism. There are huge language and cultural barriers, and traditional Chinese culture does not really internationalize well. The rigid deference to authority and pervasive quiet disdain for internal or external criticism also makes it incompatible with how most westerners would approach spirituality.
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby Indrajala » Mon Oct 01, 2012 4:04 pm

Kaji wrote:Errr with Pure Land practice I intend to have no more lifetime after this one.


Right, but that's a faith oriented approach and won't appeal to people with a lingering distrust of Christianity and the promise of heaven for the faithful.

But yeah, I see your point - who wants to wait till their time is about up to tell if they've made it, all the time doing one simple *ahem boring ahem* thing that's stereotypically done usually by old women at their boring homes, and oh without many promises of supernatural powers nor much worldly gains in the process...


I'm fine with the multi-life process of bodhisattvahood. I don't think I'm matured enough to really expect otherwise of myself.
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby kirtu » Mon Oct 01, 2012 4:07 pm

Huseng wrote:
Kaji wrote:A side note... Empowerment, mysticism and the technical side may not be what make Tibetian Buddhism more popular in the West, but they are certainly what makes Esoteric Buddhism more appealing to some Buddhist followers in the East. Unfortunately some people have used those aspects for personal gains, some even illegal... I don't know if this is an issue in the West with Tibetian Buddhism.


Perhaps it is the promise of rapid, powerful and profound results from the practice.

In the case of Mahāyāna you are told in no uncertain terms your career as a bodhisattva will take many many lifetimes.


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.

The reason TB is more popular is because of charismatic teachers, esp. HH 14th DL. This is the same with some Chinese masters and of course some Japanese and Korean masters. But they have much less exposure in the media. Basically the next most charismatic teacher outside of the top Tibetan teachers is Thich Naht Hanh.

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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby Indrajala » Mon Oct 01, 2012 4:11 pm

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.


The reason TB is more popular is because of charismatic teachers, esp. HH 14th DL. This is the same with some Chinese masters and of course some Japanese and Korean masters. But they have much less exposure in the media. Basically the next most charismatic teacher outside of the top Tibetan teachers is Thich Naht Hanh.


One thing to note is he speaks English (and French I assume).

Tibetan teachers just seem more ready to jump into the host culture. Maybe because they have no choice or alternative?
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby kirtu » Mon Oct 01, 2012 4:15 pm

Huseng wrote:Even if you translated a lot of the material into English, though, you still wouldn't have many Chinese Buddhist teachers who demonstrate a dedicated interest in spreading Dharma into the west. There are plenty of Chinese temples in western cities, but they're not necessarily open to non-Chinese. This is actually the biggest hurdle with Chinese Buddhism.


This is unfortunately true. The West is ripe for a Chinese Buddhist teacher to reach outside their current environment. There were Korean Zen and Japanese-American Pure Land teachers who did this at the end of their life. But they just didn't have the time to become more well known. Tendai is sort of doing this with their strategy of Western home grown Tendai teachers. It would be better to combine this with their own outreach to the West beyond their students but they have apparently decided that the cultural barriers are too great.

We will either see a great explosion of Buddha Dharma in the next 20-100 years as a result of these efforts or the beginning of the fading of Buddha Dharma worldwide.

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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby Indrajala » Mon Oct 01, 2012 4:21 pm

kirtu wrote:This is unfortunately true. The West is ripe for a Chinese Buddhist teacher to reach outside their current environment.


I think in order to do that they need to drop the whole idea of "Chinese Buddhism" and in the context of Taiwanese Buddhism drop the whole idea of Humanistic Buddhism as it is only applicable and sensible in the Chinese context. A strong widespread living tradition of English speaking monasticism might be a good first step as well. I know this is in the works at the moment, but we'll see where it goes (they'll kill it if they insist as a rule all the ordinands must learn Chinese).

There were Korean Zen and Japanese-American Pure Land teachers who did this at the end of their life. But they just didn't have the time to become more well known. Tendai is sort of doing this with their strategy of Western home grown Tendai teachers. It would be better to combine this with their own outreach to the West beyond their students but they have apparently decided that the cultural barriers are too great.


In the case of Tendai or Chan, for example, I don't think you can rely on natives to do the work of transmission. It needs to be those outsiders interested in those traditions.
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby kirtu » Mon Oct 01, 2012 5:02 pm

Huseng wrote:In the case of Tendai or Chan, for example, I don't think you can rely on natives to do the work of transmission. It needs to be those outsiders interested in those traditions.


Masters Sheng-yen and Hsuan Hua devoted their lives to this transmission. It did work but after their parinirvanas not much has been done.

Huseng wrote:I think in order to do that they need to drop the whole idea of "Chinese Buddhism" and in the context of Taiwanese Buddhism drop the whole idea of Humanistic Buddhism as it is only applicable and sensible in the Chinese context.


Humanistic Buddhism is needed in a place like the US where the poor are relegated to the trash heap and public education has totally failed. It may be less needed in a social democracy but neither Holland nor Germany nor Austria for that matter have eliminated homelessness for example. They deal with it much better than the US but they also have failed and they shouldn't have - they actually have the social tools to eliminate terrible social problems. Nonetheless these problems still persist.

A strong widespread living tradition of English speaking monasticism might be a good first step as well. I know this is in the works at the moment, but we'll see where it goes (they'll kill it if they insist as a rule all the ordinands must learn Chinese).


This seems necessary (English as the major de facto fingua franca). However Portuguese and Spanish may become the co-lingua franca's of the world over the next 20 yrs.

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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby Kaji » Mon Oct 01, 2012 5:26 pm

Huseng wrote:It is happening, just not on a wide co-ordinated scale. There is the money for it. As a scholar in the field I can tell you that the money for such a project would be possible, but we don't have the people. A lot of scholars don't want to do lengthy translations if you are willing to pay them. It doesn't count for tenure credit, and most often they're too busy with other tasks like teaching and their own research and writing.

Even if you translated a lot of the material into English, though, you still wouldn't have many Chinese Buddhist teachers who demonstrate a dedicated interest in spreading Dharma into the west. There are plenty of Chinese temples in western cities, but they're not necessarily open to non-Chinese. This is actually the biggest hurdle with Chinese Buddhism. There are huge language and cultural barriers, and traditional Chinese culture does not really internationalize well. The rigid deference to authority and pervasive quiet disdain for internal or external criticism also makes it incompatible with how most westerners would approach spirituality.

Good to hear that it is happening. I have to broaden my horizon of Buddhism in the whole globe.

As a Chinese Buddhist living in a Western country, I have been trying to "casually" spread Buddhism to people around me whenever an apparently opportune moment arises. My temperament makes me want to go about this ardently, but circumstances prevent me from doing so, especially my recent family situation. I have realised I not only lack freedom, but the necessary skills and knowledge. Until then... gotta train more :jedi:
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby deepbluehum » Mon Oct 01, 2012 5:31 pm

It segues from the popularity of yoga in the West. TB has a rep for being the best. Two words: fast path.
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby Kaji » Mon Oct 01, 2012 5:36 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.

Perhaps I am one of the luckier ones practising Chinese Buddhism to be taught by a monk that said (paraphrasing), "whether you practise Zen, Pure Land or Esoteric, you gotta get it done (break away from samsara) this life, for you do not know whether you can be human the next life and have the chance to practise Buddhism again."

For some reason, a lot of Chinese Buddhists I've met do not have a strong intention to break away from samsara... forget about achieving buddhahood. Buddhism to them is a religion that gives them blessings, a way of life, spiritual guidance, ritualised practice, etc., and not so much what Buddhism is ultimately for... sad but true...
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby Yudron » Mon Oct 01, 2012 6:09 pm

It's not my perception that Tibetan Buddhism is more popular. I could be wrong, but my impression is that zen and vipassana are more popular in the U.S. But, then I live in an area where one of the largest Zen Centers and one of the largest vipassana centers are located. Of course, every Tibetan lama has a slightly different lineage and they each want a different center to promulgate it, so we have many different little TB centers here.
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby catmoon » Mon Oct 01, 2012 6:18 pm

Back to the OP.

I really think the Dalai Lama has a lot to do with it. His presentations demand almost no faith, he spends a lot of time presenting nuts and bolts methods, and a lot of time laying out basic teachings and supporting them with pretty rigorous logic. He maintains a travel and teaching schedule that would exhaust most men half his age. He has that Nobel Peace Prize, earned back when it meant something. And his daily conduct exemplifies the teachings, something Westerners jaded by the Jimmy Swaggarts of the world really appreciate.
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby anjali » Mon Oct 01, 2012 6:33 pm

My own two cents for what it's worth. Basically it comes down to the Tibetan diaspora. Truly amazing masters of the TB tradition were scattered to Europe and America. If this dispersal hadn't happened, Tibet would still be a insular country and far less would be known in the West about TB. And, to echo others, HHDL puts a face on TB that people can connect with. One more notion that may make TB attractive to Westerners is the guru-disciple relationship. A lot of people understand that concept, at least at some level. And I believe a lot of people are looking for a one-on-one spiritual connection with a master rather than a tradition per se.

As far as the East Asian Buddhist traditions in the West (America), I have spent time at Master Sheng Yen's Dharma Drum Retreat Center in NY and Master Hsuan Hua's City of Ten Thousand Buddhas. Spending any time in either place will leave little doubt as to why they aren't more popular with Westerners. Although, I have to say, DDRC is a very nice retreat facility and will feel more like Asian Buddhism has adapted to the West, rather than Asian Buddhism has be transplanted in the West. I haven't spent much time exploring the Japanese Zen tradition in America, although I have spent some sitting time at a local zendo. I've always appreciated the minimalism of zen centers.
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby dzoki » Mon Oct 01, 2012 6:50 pm

Here in central Europe, it seems to me that Western (that is people of non-asian origin) followers of TB wastly outnumber followers of any other stream of buddhism. For example in Czech republic, majority of TB buddhists are in Diamond-way and they alone make up much more than all zen and theravadin groups combined together. The second most popular branch of TB is Dzogchen community, followed by some smaller sanghas like Rangjung Yeshe and Bodhipath. Theravada and zen are also popular and there even are some Czech theravada teachers, Dhammadipa is most well known, but they don´t really catch up to the numbers of TB. Here is one reason why:

Tibetan buddhism allows for much more socialisation than any of these other groups. In both zen/chan and theravada, when the sangha (I mean sangha in broader sense, that is, also lay people) meets, most of the time is spent in silence. This is especially the case in group retreats. So people don´t really become friends or seldomly so, they are more like colleaugues. Because they just don´t have the time to chat and to get to know each other since they have to keep quiet. While in TB when there is group "retreat" people always hang out with each other in between the sessions. I think this social aspect is a vital part of TB´s succes at least in the parts of Europe, where I have lived.
Also another thing, which comes to my mind is that in general theravada and chan seem so much more ascetic than TB. In TB you have tshog and tshog is also not only an opportunity to do a practice together, but also an opportunity to hang out together and enjoy some booze and nice food.
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby JKhedrup » Mon Oct 01, 2012 7:06 pm

I am by no means an expert and Chinese Buddhism is the one I know the least about when compared with Vajrayana and Theravada. But I did spend 7 months is a monastery in Taiwan and 4 months at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas in California so I will share my impressions.

Somehow though Tibetan Buddhism has many cultural aspects to it I think the willingness of some lamas to leave aside those forms and relate to Westerners by immersing themselves in the culture has something to do with it. Especially the early "pioneers" like Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Lama Yeshe etc.

The other major factor is that the target audience of the Tibetan lamas is Westerners in the vast majority of cases. Due to the situation in Tibet, many lamas feel for Buddhadharma to survive it must be transmitted successfully to the West.

The Chinese temples on the other hand often function as cultural centres for the Chinese diaspora. The cultural aspects can be overwhelming for people with no knowledge of Chinese language and customs. Many Westerners who I met at a Chinese temple where I stayed in Canada for a time specifically mentioned the dharma functions (fa hue??? forgetting...) as particularly alienating. Bowing in unison, trying to put the sash on the haiqing perfectly, and a very stern formal atmosphere are difficult for many to take. People feel uneasy and afraid to make a mistake (afraid to fart, as one man said).

On the other hand, I enjoyed the dharma functions and to my ear Chinese Buddhists chants are very beautiful. If the temples tried to give commentaries on the practices in English and make the atmosphere more casual, that might go a long way.

Another thing to mention is that many Westerners like to study in a linear, progressive fashion- similar to how they studies in school. In many of the Gelug centres (perhaps this is the case in other centres too), this is quite possible. One can begin foundational studies on progressive text like the Lam Rim or Bodhisattvacaryavatara to get a firm basis, and then seek teachings on tougher topics like Madhyamika, and take classes on tantric practices.

With the exception of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, none of the Chinese temples I have visited offer a complete, in-depth study program with qualified teachers in English, other than very brief introductory courses. Even for the Western born Chinese kids, many of them told my they found the sutra lectures interesting but felt they were very piecemeal, and it was hard to develop a firm knowledge.

Tibetan lamas are in general more casual and approachable than Chinese masters. While a Chinese bhikshu or bhikshuni might consider it inappropriate to appear in photos holding babies with an arm around the student, for most Tibetan lamas this would not be a problem. The emphasis on being "chuangyen" or dignified is what allows the Sangha to be respected in the Chinese community, but ironically to many Westerners it seems stiff and unwelcoming.

That being said, Tibetan Dharma centres are at times also quite unfriendly, as mentioned in previous threads.
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby Konchog1 » Mon Oct 01, 2012 7:29 pm

Of course, the simplest explanation is karmic connection. I dabbled in western magic for awhile, but once I found TB I had a feeling of "this is it". A feeling I've never had with any other philosophy. Over the years, as my understanding and faith has grown, I've never lost that feeling.

EDIT
Huseng wrote:Tibetan teachers just seem more ready to jump into the host culture. Maybe because they have no choice or alternative?
That's certainly part of it. But, Indian masters and the Indian origin of TB are revered in all four traditions, and Buddhism seems to have been considered a internationalist philosophy by the Tibetans from Trisong Detsen to now.

So, Tibetian Buddhism is not usually perceived as Tibetian Buddhism by Lamas, in the same way Chinese Buddhism is by the Chinese (for example). Thus, they are more welcoming towards non Tibetans and are more willing to adapt TB to the host cultures.

I've heard several Lamas repeatably draw comparisons between TB entering the West and Buddhism entering Tibet. This is the model, consciously or unconsciously, being used.

Or so it seems to me.

dzoki wrote:In TB you have tshog and tshog is also not only an opportunity to do a practice together, but also an opportunity to hang out together and enjoy some booze and nice food.
Which is what Tsog originally was. A bunch of people sitting around a campfire discussing philosophy and inventing songs. Also, there is the Tantric vow of not criticizing follow disciples out of anger and other things (Guru's pores etc.). So, there is a tradition of socializing and getting along with others that is an inherent part of TB.
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby passel » Mon Oct 01, 2012 8:01 pm

One point that hasn't come up is timing- Tibetans and Westerners started mixing a generation ago when there was an active counterculture and Tibetans hadn't built up big organizations yet, so they could really get to know one another, here and in India. There was a lot of access for some really dedicated westerners, and so TB has gotten deeply rooted in a way that Chinese Buddhism hasn't. Japanese Zen and Korean have also put down roots, arguably more so than TB, and it seems to me that if Bsm survives with any integrity into the next generation we will be able to speak of it as having become genuinely Western. Tibetan schools will be the holdouts, splitting between the very Tibetan and those that jump into the melting pot and meet with other schools and traditions as equals.

Chinese Buddhists have had a later start and the window has closed somewhat; Westerners are less freaky than they used to be, with less free time. Chinese Buddhists were just trying to hang on until the mid 80's so essentially are missing the generation of monks that would have been around for the wave of charismatic Asian teachers that met the Western counterculture. Hsuan Hua was an exception but his organization has been kind of insular, and so has not blended into the melting pot of Western Buddhism. I'd argue that Sheng yen had better luck, more so in the UK, probably because he was more willing to let students come and go between other sanghas. Red Pine notes in Zen Baggage that Chinese organizations are interested in building big temples here, but he thinks they would be better off sending missionaries to basically "go native" and meet westerners on their own terms. I agree with this.

Ironically to me is that the Buddhism that's developing in the West seems to follow a somewhat Chinese model in its eclecticism and pragmatism. Shinzen Young, for example, teaches his own idiosyncratic method that blends 2 styles of Burmese Vipassana, his own Japanese Zen teacher's idiosyncratic presentation of Rinzai Zen, and a steady stream of references to other approaches. And he does it, imo, in a cohesive way that works for him and his students. Compare this to Yogi Chen's combination of Pali Buddhism, Dzogchen, Mahamudra, Annutarayoga, and Chan. Or Nan Huai Chin, another eclectic. We have our share of relatively homogenous Buddhist organizations here (meaning everybody practices roughly the same thing, works with roughly the same doctrines, at least publicly) but there is also a strong trend of making one's practice one's own, and emphasizing compatabilties over distinctions. I'm thinking of Vipassana practitioners who do Dzogchen, or Soto Zen priests teaching noting and brahma viharas. I'd compare it very loosely to the Ming synthesis: institutions shaky, folks practicing on their own or with whatever sangha they can find, often in homes or places with no outside support, learning and practicing whatever methods they can find, monasticism not the automatic option for serious practice, but a genuine respect for the three jewels and belief in the power of meditation.

Probably Chinese Buddhists will be importing Western teachers pretty soon; it's already happening from time to time.
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