Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby Thus-gone » Wed Oct 03, 2012 6:48 pm

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.


This is irrelevant - people with an affinity for direct paths to enlightenment are very likely not on their first life of Buddhist practice.
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby PorkChop » Wed Oct 03, 2012 6:53 pm

Thus-gone wrote:
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.


What's funny is that I think we have very similar counter-viewpoints to the ones that were prevalent during the Buddha's time.
We have "scientific materialism" where he had the nihilists.
We have "Judeo-Christian eternalists" where he had Brahmanical eternalists; the difference being the kingdom of heaven vs reincarnation and the quest for moksha.
Huseng seems to be addressing an assumption of nihilism, when in fact, we're not sure.
Most of us are agnostic and stuck in the middle; but have anxiety over that agnosticity.
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby Indrajala » Thu Oct 04, 2012 1:05 am

PorkChop wrote:What's funny is that I think we have very similar counter-viewpoints to the ones that were prevalent during the Buddha's time.
We have "scientific materialism" where he had the nihilists.
We have "Judeo-Christian eternalists" where he had Brahmanical eternalists; the difference being the kingdom of heaven vs reincarnation and the quest for moksha.
Huseng seems to be addressing an assumption of nihilism, when in fact, we're not sure.
Most of us are agnostic and stuck in the middle; but have anxiety over that agnosticity.


Acknowledging the reality of rebirth is essential to having right view, which is the first of the eightfold noble path.

I think if you're born and raised in a modern industrial education system (it doesn't really matter where nowadays) you'll be prone to unconsciously subscribe to materialism just by virtue of it being the dominant state sanctioned ideology endorsed by the elites. Of course politicians might claim to be religious or something, but for many of them it seems god is a social construct used to garner support from the masses. Their religion is their cultural identity and they use it to their advantage. The whole conflict between atheists and Christians in the US and UK is a power struggle really.

This is why perhaps studying philosophy is useful. For instance, if you hear some talented philosophers comment on the problems with materialism you might see your own biases and unrecognised beliefs.



We don't tend to think of materialism (seeing matter and energy as ultimately real while everything else we experience as secondary) as an arbitrary belief, but it really is. They won the reality of the wars of the 19th century and now here we are in 2012 finding it difficult to go against what has become orthodoxy in our present age.
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby Thus-gone » Thu Oct 04, 2012 1:17 am

Yes - materialism is completely baseless, groundless. However, I believe that it is not merely a philosophy or ideology, but an expression of our psychological condition in the contemporary world, in the same way that philosophies of the past were expressions of their own material and existential conditions. Materialism is essentially nihilism, and nihilism is the pure spirit of global capitalism. In the face of all the anxieties that come with this worldview, nothing is more radical and attractive than the promise of religious experience. The practice of devotion or intellectual/cultural engagement with religion is becoming less and less viable, especially when actual liberation is a possibility.
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby Kaji » Thu Oct 04, 2012 3:13 am

Thus-gone wrote:Yes - materialism is completely baseless, groundless. However, I believe that it is not merely a philosophy or ideology, but an expression of our psychological condition in the contemporary world, in the same way that philosophies of the past were expressions of their own material and existential conditions. Materialism is essentially nihilism, and nihilism is the pure spirit of global capitalism. In the face of all the anxieties that come with this worldview, nothing is more radical and attractive than the promise of religious experience. The practice of devotion or intellectual/cultural engagement with religion is becoming less and less viable, especially when actual liberation is a possibility.

It is funny that since a fairly young age, without having been educated or read about them, I have naturally thought about, and doubted, materialism and nihilism. I often come across to other people as weird and radically different in thinking as compared with the rest of society. Long before the movie The Matrix came out I had already contemplated the notion.

Reflecting on your previous post, Thus-gone, I think such kind of thinking of mine did not just develop for the first time in my young mind, and must be something carried forward from a previous life or many previous lives.
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby PorkChop » Thu Oct 04, 2012 7:42 am

Huseng wrote:Acknowledging the reality of rebirth is essential to having right view, which is the first of the eightfold noble path.


Thank you for the video. I'm not sure I got as much out of it as I would have liked, but my overall impression at first viewing is someone with somewhat conflicted views and no easy answers.

I'll be honest, the first time I heard about the concept of reincarnation and/or rebirth, there was something there that gave me a sense of "truth".
I don't know if this is because of my selfish "selfness" grasping at survival beyond death or if it was real "truth", but it made the most sense of all the theories that I'd heard posited before- ie a discontinuance of existence after death, going to heaven for eternity, or going to hell for eternity.

Even in my Theology classes as a kid in Catholic school growing up, there was a sort of blanket acceptance of the possibility of such a concept as rebirth because in the Catholic faith "purgatory" had never been explicitly spelled out. Purgatory was merely an after-death state where the "soul" was to learn more lessons about the reality of "good" and "evil" before finally being accepted as "good". In this way, the concept of rebirth never conflicted with the faith that i was raised in and was therefor much easier to accept as an adult as to be the true nature of things.

I believe most people in the West could buy into a non-materialist view, whether from the standpoint of an inherent "truthfulness" to the message, a selfish hope for continued existence after death, or from a standpoint that such a beautiful thing as sentience would surely be a waste if all sentience ceased upon the death of each and every sentient being.
I don't believe most people are quick to accept scientific materialsim as the reality of the nature of things, but we are definitely conditioned to think that scientists don't view any other possibility as any more than "wishful thinking" - in agreement with your comment about the "dominant state sanctioned ideology endorsed by the elites."

One of the biggest things that continues to impress me about Buddhism is the number of PHds (learned people who have a strong foundation in logical thinking) that have subscribed to the theories of the different flavors of Buddhism - that they have not found significant holes in the theories set forth in the Nikaya sutras, or even the Mahayana sutras that followed. In fact, most of the PHds I know subscribe to a continued existence of one form or another.
The shear number of such learned people who have not found fault in the Dharma leads me to think that either Siddhartha Gautama or the 600+ years of monks that followed in his footsteps that documented these sutras must certainly be positing genius ideas. There must be some strong logic there that transcends the mere "wishful thinking" of a continued existence. If the idea of scientific materialism had such a ring of "truth" to it, then I doubt the contrary would attract any PHds; let alone garnering the interest or agnosticism of such people as Einstein or Carl Sagan (who, while adamantly atheist, seemed to be genuinely interested in the teachings of HH the Dalai Lama).

Your comment about politicians is interesting. Robert Thurman once made a comment about how if the rulers of a country believed in nihilism/scientific materialism then that country would be very dangerous. I think that meshes well with your statement about politicians using religion as a means for gaining support, maybe not necessarily what they truly believe. The US has made some surprisingly huge gambles with the fate of human existence in the past 60 years.

As far as scientific materialism being a belief system, i'm reminded of the concept that atheists are just as devoutly religious in their beliefs of no metaphysical existence as religious leaders are devout in their own religious beliefs.

I'd just like to take this opportunity to apologize if anybody on this board thinks I'm writing too much as a relative Dharma-noob. My lack of standing in the Buddhist world does not reflect the amount of research or thought I've put into these topics. I really enjoy the discourse and if there are any errors in my line of thought, I really appreciate it when they are pointed out. I know in the next few years, I'll look back on these posts and be embarrassed, but at least I'm trying to learn. :)
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby Dechen Norbu » Thu Oct 04, 2012 11:03 am

Thus-gone 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.


This is irrelevant - people with an affinity for direct paths to enlightenment are very likely not on their first life of Buddhist practice.

I'm sorry, but that's hardly convincing. It's way better to understand how is our real situation than dreaming about becoming a Buddha in this very life. It is possible, for those who practice 24/7, have excellent guidance and many orther good conditions. A very few are real spiritual prodigies and that shows by their tremendous insight with very little teachings. But if the average practitioner thinks he'll attain full Buddhahood this very life, he has another thing coming, named disappointment. Disappointment may have dire consequences in our practice and its roots are unrealistic expectations. Better cut them as they come, practice the best as we can and forget about lofty goals like those. Just saying...
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby Dechen Norbu » Thu Oct 04, 2012 11:06 am

PorkChop wrote:
Huseng wrote:Acknowledging the reality of rebirth is essential to having right view, which is the first of the eightfold noble path.


Thank you for the video. I'm not sure I got as much out of it as I would have liked, but my overall impression at first viewing is someone with somewhat conflicted views and no easy answers.

[...]

I'd just like to take this opportunity to apologize if anybody on this board thinks I'm writing too much as a relative Dharma-noob. My lack of standing in the Buddhist world does not reflect the amount of research or thought I've put into these topics. I really enjoy the discourse and if there are any errors in my line of thought, I really appreciate it when they are pointed out. I know in the next few years, I'll look back on these posts and be embarrassed, but at least I'm trying to learn. :)

:good:
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby Indrajala » Thu Oct 04, 2012 12:57 pm

Dechen Norbu wrote:Disappointment may have dire consequences in our practice and its roots are unrealistic expectations. Better cut them as they come, practice the best as we can and forget about lofty goals like those. Just saying...


As my teacher told me when I asked about buddhahood in a lifetime: "It takes a perfect student and a perfect teacher."
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby Indrajala » Thu Oct 04, 2012 1:12 pm

PorkChop wrote:As far as scientific materialism being a belief system, i'm reminded of the concept that atheists are just as devoutly religious in their beliefs of no metaphysical existence as religious leaders are devout in their own religious beliefs.


In the 19th century a lot of western intellectuals subscribed to idealism, though it lost to materialism which later formed into a rigidly dogmatic widespread ideology which was the only acceptable view to have for most of intelligentsia. Once such ideas became orthodox and introduced into the education system they became official, default, natural and sanctioned. To deviate from it is to be called foolish, dishonest, unscientific and backwards.

However, time goes on and things change.

Your comment about politicians is interesting. Robert Thurman once made a comment about how if the rulers of a country believed in nihilism/scientific materialism then that country would be very dangerous. I think that meshes well with your statement about politicians using religion as a means for gaining support, maybe not necessarily what they truly believe. The US has made some surprisingly huge gambles with the fate of human existence in the past 60 years.


He's said that I think in a number of his lectures that I've listened to.

Incidentally, it is related to the death of God where despite people in the 19th and 20th centuries being nominally Christian they didn't really believe in such a force anymore, let alone the consequences of going against the doctrines they collectively stood for on paper.

You can already see that with Buddhism in Asia. Plenty of people are nominally Buddhist, but they might not really have a karmic consciousness. For instance, thinking twice about their actions in terms of karma and the outcome of their acts. You see this especially in Japan where Buddhism is a fossil of its former self. I seldom got the impression anyone really had conviction in karma or the reality of saṃsāra.

But that is what you get when the education system and society subscribe to a worldview completely at odds with Buddhism. They teach one thing at schools which the government officially sanctions while Buddhism is teaching something else which might as well be a fantasy to most people indoctrinated into modernity.
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby JKhedrup » Thu Oct 04, 2012 2:27 pm

Thus-gone 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.


This is irrelevant - people with an affinity for direct paths to enlightenment are very likely not on their first life of Buddhist practice.


Or just more confident than most :namaste:

I often hear that it isn't wrong to be confident about our capability in this fortunate rebirth, in fact we should be confident. We have the Buddha nature, thatagatagarbha, we have the powerful human intelligence, the physical body which is important for tantric practice, and we have met the teachings.
I don't buy that everyone who feels attracted to the formless/direct paths is necessarily more advanced or has better imprints than those attracted to the other systems though.
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 Dechen Norbu » Thu Oct 04, 2012 3:33 pm

Thanks for stressing that point about confidence JKhedrup.
Otherwise I could have settled an overly pessimistic tone. It is worthwhile practicing, even if little.

It's possible to achieve Buddhahood in a lifetime, but it's as Huseng's teacher said: It takes a perfect teacher and a perfect student.
Neither of them abound.

One thing I usually think is that we can only do what we can do. If we at least do that, that's already great. What we can do tends to improve along the way, especially if we didn't skip the four mindfulnesses as if they were lesser teachings.
OK, I'll stop hijacking this thread now. :emb:
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby JKhedrup » Thu Oct 04, 2012 5:18 pm

Yes it is important to balance that confidence- that great things are possible- with the big picture. HH Dalai Lama often mentions that Westerners are not able to think of evolution through practice in terms of lifetimes so get disappointed when there are not quick results.
The best is to practice as if it is possible to get enlightened in this lifetime, while realizing that while it is possible, it may not happen. Through confidence we can bring forth joyous effort, through being realistic we can maintain instead of getting discouraged when expectations aren't met.
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 Karma Dondrup Tashi » Thu Oct 04, 2012 6:13 pm

Huseng wrote:As my teacher told me when I asked about buddhahood in a lifetime: "It takes a perfect student and a perfect teacher."


Well most of us have one half of that covered.
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby Anistar » Fri Oct 05, 2012 5:19 pm

I am very new to buddhism, but what I read below made a lot of sense to me:

"If the motivation for an action such as coming, going or meditating is to avoid one's own rebirth after death in the unfortunate realms of existence, this is Dharma or spiritual practice of the most modest or least scope. The motivation is of middle scope if the aim is to avoid rebirth anywhere in cyclic existence thereby achieving one's own liberation. Finally, the highest motivation, of a person of great scope is if one practises to achieve enlightenment for the sake of all beings. Studying the teachings with excellent attitude and motivation is very powerful, less good is of middling benefit and the least or weakest is not so significant".

Source: http://www.lamayeshe.com/index.php?sect ... &chid=1735

It sounds to me as if a lot of you are settling for motivation number one, which was the same for me until the other two possibilities were pointed out. We are meant to step up to the plate and try for a home run. If we don't make it, we don't make it. But we have to strive for it with every breath of this life!
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby PorkChop » Fri Oct 05, 2012 6:05 pm

Anistar wrote:...
It sounds to me as if a lot of you are settling for motivation number one, which was the same for me until the other two possibilities were pointed out. We are meant to step up to the plate and try for a home run. If we don't make it, we don't make it. But we have to strive for it with every breath of this life!


I don't know if I'd describe my aims that way.
Overarching goal - yes, to help other beings, generate merit, end suffering, and break the cycle (cyclic existence).
Short term goal - wisdom & compassion.

The goal in wisdom - enough to understand the nature of existence. When properly understood, the nature of lower realms loses their "scariness". When you understand that all conditioned things are temporary and can achieve equanimity/calmness in the face of great suffering, then it doesn't really matter where you are. The stoics have some good quotes to this effect. My family's pretty strict Catholic and I've always known that eventually I am going to have to explain to them my decisions as far as my spirituality. I've fully accepted the likelihood that if they're right and I'm wrong, then I'm going to hell. And I'm okay with that - because you can't torture someone that's just not there and even their own book says that hell is not a permanent situation (obliteration at the final judgement and all that).

The goal in compassion - I don't think there ever really is an "enough". I know how much the sufferings in my life have gotten me down in the past and how much a helping hand has really been a wonderful thing. If I could do that for others, be someone else's helping hand (whether they knew it or not), then I'd like that. From a young age I've always greatly admired people who gave themselves completely to helping others. For a long time I've felt like I haven't been living up to that. Try to help out where I can in the capacities I can, but it's a pitifully small amount. I'd like to learn to do more.

Going back to the original topic - as far as compassion, Brad Warner says in his "Hardcore Zen" book something to the effect of "don't bother joining Green Peace to go help people, just clean your room, that's good enough". On hearing that (audiobook), I thought "what an incredibly selfish and self-centered view". I really couldn't take the guy seriously after that. On the other hand, I've really been impressed at the emphasis placed on compassion for all sentient beings in the teachings of Lama Yeshe and the FPMT. Your quote from Lama Yeshe is typical of that attitude.
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby Zenda » Fri Oct 05, 2012 7:44 pm

JKhedrup wrote:The best is to practice as if it is possible to get enlightened in this lifetime, while realizing that while it is possible, it may not happen. Through confidence we can bring forth joyous effort, through being realistic we can maintain instead of getting discouraged when expectations aren't met.


:thanks:

This is superb advice. Thanks JKhedrup. Working with expectations is also an incredibly powerful way to practice, I think.
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby Nikolay » Sat Oct 06, 2012 10:03 am

Going back to the original topic - I do not think that the popularity of Tibetan Buddhism is mostly due to some doctrinal differences. Sure, Tibetan texts are generally easier to read than sutras, and Tibetan gradual path approach is very appealing, but ultimately I feel that it boils down to the issues of cultural openness, ethnicity and so on.

I'll give an example. As you may know, in Russia (where I live) Tibetan Buddhism has a very long history. It is officially one of four "traditional religions" of Russia, and it was practised for centuries in some regions, like Kalmykia, Buryatia and Tuva Republics. There are several old monasteries/temples (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Datsan), including one in Saint Petersburg.

That said, nowadays there are two very distinct "types" of Tibetan Buddhism in Russia. The first is what I described above - what could be called "Datsan Buddhism". It is called "Buddhist Traditional Sangha of Russia". I do not really know much about it, but it seems to consist almost entirely of Buryats, Kalmyks and other traditionally Buddhist ethnicities. It is (as far as I know) strictly Gelug of Mongolian flavor. And the second kind of Tibetan Buddhism in Russia is what you would expect to see in a Western country: Dharma centers established by travelling teachers from abroad. Diamond Way, Dzogchen Community, Rangjung Yeshe, FPMT, etc.

Now, I do not really have any experience with BTSR, and I do not mean to say they are unwelcoming to "outsiders" or anything (for all I know, they have wonderful teachers), but if traditional ethnic Sangha was the only available option, I do not think I would ever become a Buddhist. I would just feel uncomfortable, because I am not the target audience - I am not from a Buddhist family, I do not share their culture, and I am interested in different things. I am not really interested in prayers for wealth, good health, etc (well, I am interested, but they are far from my main concern). And many people from traditional Buddhist ethnicities do tend to look down on "newcomers" from non-Buddhist nationalities, regarding them as "not genuine" Buddhists.

So, I would guess that Chinese Buddhism has exactly the same problem. Westerners are not the target audience, and they often feel simply unwelcome.
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby Indrajala » Sat Oct 06, 2012 1:50 pm

mirage wrote:Now, I do not really have any experience with BTSR, and I do not mean to say they are unwelcoming to "outsiders" or anything (for all I know, they have wonderful teachers), but if traditional ethnic Sangha was the only available option, I do not think I would ever become a Buddhist. I would just feel uncomfortable, because I am not the target audience - I am not from a Buddhist family, I do not share their culture, and I am interested in different things. I am not really interested in prayers for wealth, good health, etc (well, I am interested, but they are far from my main concern). And many people from traditional Buddhist ethnicities do tend to look down on "newcomers" from non-Buddhist nationalities, regarding them as "not genuine" Buddhists.

So, I would guess that Chinese Buddhism has exactly the same problem. Westerners are not the target audience, and they often feel simply unwelcome.


Thanks for your perspective. I didn't know there were such divisions in Russia.

Chinese Buddhism in foreign countries is largely made up of Chinese speaking communities and generally middle-aged women. As a non-Chinese younger male walking into such a place, not only are you alien, there are likely to be language barriers. There may or may not even be a monk around you can talk to as the Chinese sangha is overwhelmingly female.

In western countries there is a clear divide between ethnic temples servicing expatriate communities and those made up of members from the host culture.
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby Nikolay » Sat Oct 06, 2012 2:19 pm

Huseng wrote:Thanks for your perspective. I didn't know there were such divisions in Russia.

Chinese Buddhism in foreign countries is largely made up of Chinese speaking communities and generally middle-aged women. As a non-Chinese younger male walking into such a place, not only are you alien, there are likely to be language barriers. There may or may not even be a monk around you can talk to as the Chinese sangha is overwhelmingly female.

In western countries there is a clear divide between ethnic temples servicing expatriate communities and those made up of members from the host culture.

That reminds me - I once saw a message on a forum from a girl who complained that entering the Saint Petersburg Datsan felt like entering a church. By church she obviously meant the Russian Orthodox one. Now, if we dismiss the minority of "patriotic" showoffs, about 95% of people you would find in a typical church in Russia are old women. The atmosphere can sometimes be a bit oppressive, with people looking at you with disapproval and reprimanding you if you do something wrong. This seems close to your description of Chinese temples.

Like I said I have no personal experience so I do not want to sound like I am denigating the BTSR Sangha or something. I just feel that there might be a common trend. Religious communities whose target audience are recent converts and the ones who are mostly visited by people born into a religion seem to be very different, regardless of religion in question.
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