Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby Dave The Seeker » Sat Oct 06, 2012 10:53 pm

I think it is more popular as there are more resources available.
Between online "classes" and at home courses from different traditions as well as more temples here in the US.
Groups like FPMT have just a ton of information online. The Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive is just an awesome site with an incredible amount of material to read and study.
But this is just my opinion.
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby Sara H » Sun Oct 07, 2012 10:29 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?

I don't have statistics or studies to back up my ideas here, but these are things I've noticed:

- Volume of printed materials on Tibetan Buddhism compared to works on East Asian traditions is comparatively greater. The latter often seems to be more academic and not accessible to ordinary readers.

- The number of students in East Asia from the west studying Buddhism seems much smaller than those going to India and elsewhere to specifically study and practice TB. If you wanted to study Buddhism in Taiwan, they would basically pay you to do so, but not so many students have an interest. On the other hand, IBA and RYI in Kathmandu attract dozens and dozens of students every year who pay 6K or more in tuition out of their own pockets. There are a lot of fresh students every year who travel to Dharamsala specifically to study Tibetan at their own expense. Japanese Buddhist Universities have a few western students, but they're usually on scholarship (or at least in my own observations there), and probably half or more are scholars and not practitioners.

- Taiwanese Buddhist organizations like Foguangshan and Dharma Drum Mountain have vast sums of wealth and resources, yet between them there are less than two dozen western monastics. Meanwhile I hear about many western Tibetan Buddhists very much wanting to ordain, but not having any economic means to support themselves.

- Tibetan teachers draw larger crowds of long-term committed students and disciples.

- TB groups are working on the 84,000 Project, whereas no such comparable project is in the works with the East Asian Chinese canon. Plenty of it is being translated, but nothing co-ordinated on the scale of 84,000.

- TB groups are rapidly producing translators and many colleges and programs exist for that express purpose, yet nothing comparable is seen within Japanese or Chinese traditions (maybe Korean is different?). This is clearly not a priority for East Asian traditions.

Now it begs the question why would this be?

- A lot of the eminent TB teachers speak English. Some East Asian teachers speak English, but many don't. The big names in Japanese and Taiwanese-Chinese Buddhism that are well known in their respective countries are largely unknown in the western Buddhist world.

- The Dalai Lama is a recognizable and attractive figurehead who speaks English.

- Tibetan Buddhism is not heavily tied to an immigrant ethnicity unlike, say, Chinese Buddhism which is very closely tied to a specific ethnic group. Chinese Buddhist traditions might even specifically promote themselves as exclusively Chinese and in the process exclude members of the host culture.

- The intellectual and scholarly traditions within Tibetan Buddhism are more readily accessible and understood by Tibetan monastics and teachers, while this may not be the case with East Asian teachers where it is largely just academics who understand the classical scholarship and can thoroughly discuss such subjects. In contrast Tibetan Buddhist traditions tend to promote such activities more readily than most East Asian traditions. TB places more emphasis on critical thinking and debate at least formally than contemporary East Asian traditions which are more devotional and deferential in their orientation.


Please by all means offer your own opinions, especially if you disagree with me.


I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say if this were true,(and I don't necessarily think that it is actually) it probably would have a lot to do with the Dalai Lama and the linked political cause and publicity surrounding Tibet.

This is also related to Hollywood and major Actors supporting the Tibetan cause which gives them much publicity.
Namely, Seven Years in Tibet with Brad Pitt, Kundun, Tibet: Cry of the Snow Lion, The Dalai Lama winning the Nobel Piece prize, and also the relevance of the Tibetan cause to the international political and economic competition the west has with China.

When was the last time you saw a major motion picture about east Asian Buddhism

"Zen" about Dogen, doesn't count, nor does "Enlightenment Guaranteed", as they were both international films, and not Hollywood productions.

The only film that might come kindof close would be "The Last Samurai", but in that, Buddhism played only a minor role.

Chinese films seem to be mostly martial arts dramas or comedies such as Hero (which was very beautiful) or Shaolin Soccer, neither of which were Buddhist movies.

This and also the fact that Shambala publications is a major Tibetan Buddhist Publishing house that puts out a lot of their books in very pretty bindings that look nice on executive desks. (and also some very good publications)

Also, Naropa University in Boulder, is essentially a Tibetan Buddhist University,

And, then there's the very basic fact that the aesthetics in Tibetan Buddhism are a lot more colorful than the minimalist Zen aesthetics.

Then there's the esoteric nature of Tibetan Buddhism which may appeal to those in the west who are used to esoteric western orders like fraternities, etc, that may feel more familiar and comfortable in an esoteric setting.

That would be my guess, if your guess is actually true.

Actually though, I'm not sure that it is true.

Keep in mind, you're living and traveling overseas.

A lot of people may be traveling to India, etc for Tibetan Buddhism, but the main reason that may be so, is that people simply don't need to travel anywhere far in the US to get access to a good Zen Teacher.

We have them right here, within driving distance, and nearby, and they speak English. lol.

I don't need to travel to Japan to learn Soto Zen, I was taught right here in America by qualified Zen Priests.

In Tibetan Buddhism, there still seems to be an element of the exotic, which is why it may attract so many travelers overseas.

I think that is starting to change, as now American and British, etc, western Tibetan disciples are now starting to do teaching of their own.

It also is location specific.

In certain towns there seems to be more of a Tibetan influence, and in others more Zen or other east asian linages.
Certainly in the Asian American communities there's a lot of Shin.

The location has a lot to do with it.
Such as being near a major training center or Monastery.

Also, I've noticed generally, the Western United States seems to lean a bit more towards the Zen side of things (perhaps because of the close proximity to Japan, as well as the minimalist aesthetic appealing to the western rugged mentality), and the East Coast, seems to be a bit more Tibetan (flights closer to India perhaps, and also Washington being a political center which is relevant to the politics of Tibet and China and lobbying, and activism, etc, as well as Gampo Abbey being a Tibetan Buddhist Monastery in NE Canada, and Shambala Publications being out of Boston).
With Boulder CO having a lot of Tibetan Buddhists due to Chugyam Trungpa and Naropa.
I think the Rockies remind the Tibetans and Nepalese of the Himalayas somewhat, and so there's also a Nepalese community there.

That would be my thoughts.
I'm sorry for the rambling post, it's getting late.

EDIT: Edited to clean up idle rambling

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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby mindyourmind » Sun Oct 07, 2012 2:17 pm

A good summary, Sara.

I think you've nailed it in one.

I practice Tibetan Buddhism, but if I have to put the farm on a form surviving the next century in the West I would, I suppose, put the money on Zen, or then some American form thereof.
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby Indrajala » Tue Oct 23, 2012 1:39 pm

After gauging some opinions here I wrote a blog entry about this here:

http://huayanzang.blogspot.tw/2012/10/w ... pular.html

And Justin Whitaker wrote a response here:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/americanbu ... erica.html
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby zAnt » Tue Oct 23, 2012 2:55 pm

When I was introduced to Buddhism,it wasn't Tibetan Buddhism that caught my attention. The first to come to me was Zen. And this is the path I plan to take in the future.
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby mindyourmind » Tue Oct 23, 2012 2:57 pm

Huseng wrote:After gauging some opinions here I wrote a blog entry about this here:

http://huayanzang.blogspot.tw/2012/10/w ... pular.html

And Justin Whitaker wrote a response here:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/americanbu ... erica.html


Thanks to both you and Justin for an interesting, thought-provoking debate.

I wonder though, how fair it is, for "competitive purposes", to lump together under "TB" diverging traditions and philosophies like say for example Dzogchen and Gelug Mahayana. Still, a fascinating topic.
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby Indrajala » Tue Oct 23, 2012 2:59 pm

mindyourmind wrote:I wonder though, how fair it is, for "competitive purposes", to lump together under "TB" diverging traditions and philosophies like say for example Dzogchen and Gelug Mahayana. Still, a fascinating topic.



As far as I can tell they're still lumped together in the popular perception.
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby mindyourmind » Tue Oct 23, 2012 3:07 pm

Huseng wrote:
mindyourmind wrote:I wonder though, how fair it is, for "competitive purposes", to lump together under "TB" diverging traditions and philosophies like say for example Dzogchen and Gelug Mahayana. Still, a fascinating topic.



As far as I can tell they're still lumped together in the popular perception.



Fair enough. But then we must also group together Zen / Chan / Seon for the sake of that debate.
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby Indrajala » Tue Oct 23, 2012 3:10 pm

mindyourmind wrote:Fair enough. But then we must also group together Zen / Chan / Seon for the sake of that debate.


It has more to do with ethnic identity and cultural narratives.

Zen, Chan and Seon all hail from the same source, but are associated with distinct ethnic identities.

Dzogchen and Gelug-pa traditions all stem from the Tibetan cultural sphere, which we know isn't a single unified culture, though it is often perceived as such.
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby mindyourmind » Tue Oct 23, 2012 3:33 pm

Huseng wrote:
mindyourmind wrote:Fair enough. But then we must also group together Zen / Chan / Seon for the sake of that debate.


It has more to do with ethnic identity and cultural narratives.

Zen, Chan and Seon all hail from the same source, but are associated with distinct ethnic identities.

Dzogchen and Gelug-pa traditions all stem from the Tibetan cultural sphere, which we know isn't a single unified culture, though it is often perceived as such.



I suggested that because of your criteria of the "popular perception". I would think that all three those groups are pretty much the same thing in the popular perception.

But it is a difficult jelly to nail to the wall. Definitions and perceptions vary. Maybe having no definitive answer is also a good thing. I never liked the popularity argument.
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby Luke » Tue Aug 20, 2013 3:46 pm

What an interesting thread to read! :thumbsup:

I think the main reason that any type of eastern religion becomes popular in the west is that westerners believe that that country holds the "mystical, ancient wisdom of the east" which will be their salvation. Right now, for a combination of reasons which all of you have mentioned earlier (the popularity of HHDL in the media, high-quality books in English, good movies, etc.), Tibet seems to occupy this idealized position in western thought.

Also, let's take a look at Tibet's competition: China's image now in the west is one mainly of big business, militarism, and social repression, so that prevents it from being the west's "mystic land of wisdom" for the moment. Japan is still considered cool, but it's also kind of "old news" in the west by now, since the beat generation and the 1980s boom in karate schools already led many westerners to thoroughly explore Japanese culture. Korea is becoming increasingly popular in the world, but I don't think that most westerners see it as a very spiritual place yet (it's seen as more a place for computers, business, and pop music). Of course, India will always be regarded as a very spiritual place, and Tibet's close ties with Indian culture enhance its image of spirituality even more.

But I don't want to sound cynical. There are many great lamas, such as HHDL, in the world right now who are ethical, extremely intelligent, interesting, and very friendly towards westerners, and many of their western students have worked so hard for decades to spread, translate, and practice their teachings, so I think that the fame of Tibetan Buddhism is well-deserved now. However, it will be interesting to see which Buddhist tradition becomes very popular next...

I think that Tendai or Shingon could be it if their leadership made spreading their schools of Buddhism a priority because they have a lot of very interesting Buddhist teachings and traditions which could appeal to westerners.
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby M.G. » Tue Aug 20, 2013 5:25 pm

Other than aesthetics, one finds more Tibetan teachers who speak English and are used to dealing with Westerners than one does in other traditions.

I also think there's a feeling among mystical and new agey types that Tibetan Buddhism is one of the few authentic esoteric traditions with living masters that is both philosophically sophisticated and open to seriously interested persons, which appeals to those seeking something more substantive than, say, "The Secret."
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Tue Aug 20, 2013 5:45 pm

M.G. wrote:Other than aesthetics, one finds more Tibetan teachers who speak English and are used to dealing with Westerners than one does in other traditions.



This. I think the generally kind of relaxed demeanor that many teachers seem to have is also probably attractive to a certain segment of the population looking for Dharma teaching.
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby M.G. » Tue Aug 20, 2013 6:08 pm

Johnny Dangerous wrote:
M.G. wrote:Other than aesthetics, one finds more Tibetan teachers who speak English and are used to dealing with Westerners than one does in other traditions.



This. I think the generally kind of relaxed demeanor that many teachers seem to have is also probably attractive to a certain segment of the population looking for Dharma teaching.


I've had one or two Thais tell me they admire how relaxed, friendly, and open Tibetan teachers seem to be around their students.

On the topic, I think it would be very difficult for a Westerner interested in, say, Thai or Sri Lankan Buddhism to find instruction without moving to Asia, whereas many or most American cities contain at least one Tibetan Buddhist center. I'd guess that just by default an American interested in general Buddhism is reasonably likely to end up with a Tibetan or Tibetan-trained teacher.
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby maybay » Tue Aug 20, 2013 11:20 pm

Because Tantra is underwritten by Madhyamika, yogis embrace nimitta, and method is allowed to fructify to mirror the state of our disillusionment. Zen is consumed with the ideal.
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby yan kong » Wed Aug 21, 2013 2:11 am

JKhedrup wrote:(wait, are Snow Lion and Shambhala one thing now?)


Yes, it's now called shamwow lion buddhist publications :lol:
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby yan kong » Wed Aug 21, 2013 4:21 am

I didn't notice that this thread was started so long ago then revived. Yet still I'd like to put in my two cents.

I'll just start by stating that I think many westerners see Tibetan yogis who drink and have sex and feel like they don't have to give up all their wonderful attatchments to become buddhas. But after reading the biographies of a couple highly realised yogis I found them to have been greater renunciates that many monastics. It seems that many of the greatest did years of solitary meditation in caves before ever taking up sexual practices. I really think there needs to be a third catagory for yogis, because they are not monks but they are certainly not lay practitioners either. I think westerners may just have to get used to the fact that outside of unique situations they may have to change their lives drastically and give up a lot to get anywhere on the path. I read "holder of the white lotus" which was a great book and the author mentions that when missionaries were coming to Tibet the Tibetans seemed much more interested in supernatural powers than ethics wisdom and morality. Evidently things have changed since then but I get the feeling were may just be coming out of this period in the west in relation to Tibetan Buddhism, look at all the people who still quote Chogyam Trungpa. I'm still undecided if I think we was a wise yogi or a very clever drunk.

I gravitated away from tibetan buddhism for a number of reasons but still hold high respect and a certain amount of curiosity for it. But I will say that ever when I pick up a book now on TB and browse through it I am still frustrated at how confusing it is, there is reference to a huge amount of ritual and visualisation in the first five pages that makes my head spin.

Once I stopped being so TB centric I decided to broaden my scope and before leaving europe when to a Korean zen center. Upon arriving in Vancouver it seemed only logical to explore the many Chinese temples in the area. I went to the Gold Buddha monastery which is connected to Dharma Realm which is connected to the city of 10 000 buddhas. The nuns were very nice to me making an effort to repeat everything in english so that I could understand, though as previously mentioned the rest of the people present were chinese which shouldn't be suprising for Vancouver. I eventually found my way to Dharma Drum Mountain Vancouver and continued to go because both the Nuns and the vounteer staff were unbelievably friendly to me. I volunteered once in their kitchen and did not find the nuns to be so removed and unaproachable. Which the volunteers spoke to them in Chinese (and hopefully with some degree of respect) they seemed to be comfortable talking to them as they would anyone else. I hope to ordain in the future and at this point would very much like to go to DDU in taiwan if I can learn chinese.

I also went a couple times to the tibetan monastery just down the road from DDM and did not feel as though I could approach the monks or most of the staff for that matter. My point in I suppose I had the entirely opposite experience that many people in this thread describe.

But I'll say this, I agree that in order to spread the Dharma in the west teachers need to be more proficient in English, translators are great but there is a sense of relatability when the teacher can speak English I think.

Also as for the Chinese community outside of China I think there needs to be a distinction between the people that are "ethnically buddhist" and those that are actually buddhist. Because I have spoken to both and their is a huge difference between the people that attend on a regular basis and the people that donate money so "their ancestors can be reborn in heaven".
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby flavio81 » Wed Aug 21, 2013 4:48 pm

anjali wrote: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.


Yes, i think this is the main reason. We westerners, got the cream of the crop, the BEST Tibetan Buddhism masters, the ones that, for the regular Tibetan peasant pre-1950s, were very hard to meet. And we got them here in our country and in some cases, physically in front of us. In the case of USA, this started with the Karmapa -- brought to the US by another great master, Chogyam Trungpa.

The other reason, and i will dare to say this despite being accused of being sectarian, is that (in my opinion) Tibetan Buddhism -which actually encompasses a lot of different schools, traditions, and levels- is the most evolved and developed form of Buddhism. The amount of different methods and teachings enables it to help people of diverse capacities and diverse circumstances. In other words, it comes in all colors and sizes so you can find one that fits best.

On the other hand, i also think that spiritual materialism, new-age gurus, and apostate TB masters, are making Tibetan Buddhism a the most dangerous path to thread in the western world.
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby Indrajala » Wed Aug 21, 2013 4:51 pm

flavio81 wrote:In other words, it comes in all colors and sizes so you can find one that fits best.


Yes, it is a pretty customizable religion. As far as merchandise goes, too, you have ample selection to chose from. You can get all kinds of paintings, vajras, bells, Tibetan outfits, incense, books and so on.

If you walk around Dharamsala or Boudha in Kathmandu you'll see what I mean. I don't think any other form of Buddhism has been so heavily commodified.
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Re: Why is Tibetan Buddhism more popular?

Postby flavio81 » Wed Aug 21, 2013 4:54 pm

Indrajala wrote:
flavio81 wrote:In other words, it comes in all colors and sizes so you can find one that fits best.


Yes, it is a pretty customizable religion. As far as merchandise goes, too, you have ample selection to chose from. You can get all kinds of paintings, vajras, bells, Tibetan outfits, incense, books and so on.

If you walk around Dharamsala or Boudha in Kathmandu you'll see what I mean. I don't think any other form of Buddhism has been so heavily commodified.


No, that wasn't what i tried to express.

What i mean is that it encompasses different levels and different teachings, and each one of it is of more appeal (and benefits best) a certain type of person and/or a certain circumstance in life. This is what i meant with "all colors and sizes".
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