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.
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
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.
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.
mindyourmind wrote:Fair enough. But then we must also group together Zen / Chan / Seon for the sake of that debate.
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.
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.
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.
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.
flavio81 wrote:In other words, it comes in all colors and sizes so you can find one that fits best.
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.
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