Challenges to Chinese Buddhism in the diaspora

Challenges to Chinese Buddhism in the diaspora

Postby JKhedrup » Wed Nov 07, 2012 8:56 am

I think the question becomes what is Buddhism and what is culture. This is true for all the various forms of Buddhism we see in the world. Rules should be evaluated according to two criteria, IMO. Firstly, the question should be whether the rule is coming from the scriptures or not. Secondly, if the rule was added later, under what conditions? Since it is not in the canon, can it be changed?

I posted this orginally in the Academic thread but moved it here as I thought it veered too much from the original topic.

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I guess the Chinese monasteries are concerned about their monks and nuns maintaining 威儀 weiyi, or dignified form. However, if the rules and regulations means lower numbers of monks and nuns, should they be changed? I cannot answer that as a lay practitioner without the knowledge and wisdom, but if the decision makers of the monastic orders can look at that it'd be great.


My opinion is that the monastic sangha exists in relationship with the lay community. If forms established due to certain cultural conditions rather than scriptural reasons alienate the lay people in a modern context, that needs to be examined.

The difficult questions these Buddhist organizations must ask themselves is the one of continuity. While the weiyi or dignified form may inspire faith in the Chinese diaspora, what about their children? Do the kids born in Western countries feel comfortable enough with the stern flavour to continue coming to the temple or is a more casual approach warranted? The Youth Groups developed by several of the big temples are aimed at addressing this problem but once kids are married or moved out of the house, without the influence of pious parents, they often stop attending. In many cases these groups seem not to be delivering Buddhism to the young people anyways, but seem to act more as a place for overseas Chinese youth to interact (a needed thing, but not dharma).

There is a crisis in Buddhist countries- you see this in Tibetan and Theravada Buddhism too but at the moment it seems more pronounced in the East Asian countries. The crisis is that young people perhaps participate during their student years, but often only if they come from a strong Buddhist family. Young adults simply do not come to the temple- it is for older women and kids whose parents force them to go. (This is what I was told by several young Chinese-Canadians at a temple where I worked for a short period). When kids from traditionally Buddhist families marry out of their religion, the prevailing trend is for them to convert to (usually Christianity) of the other partner. This would be unthinkable for most, for example, Thais who often marry outside of their culture but maintain their Buddhist faith as a cornerstone of their identity in the new environment.

If the status quo in the temples does not change you could see a degeneration of Chinese Buddhism similar to that in Japan. I am of course speaking about places outside the PRC. If there is a change of regime within the PRC, there could be great potential as the people have been separated from real Buddhist practice for so long, but in HK/Taiwan/Singapore and the Chinese diaspora it seems to me that Buddhism is in decline.

To me this is a shame because unlike perhaps some of my Vajrayana brethren I have a really strong appreciation of many of the unique practice traditions included in Chinese Buddhism.
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Re: Challenges to Chinese Buddhism in the diaspora

Postby Indrajala » Wed Nov 07, 2012 9:39 am

JKhedrup wrote:I think the question becomes what is Buddhism and what is culture. This is true for all the various forms of Buddhism we see in the world. Rules should be evaluated according to two criteria, IMO. Firstly, the question should be whether the rule is coming from the scriptures or not. Secondly, if the rule was added later, under what conditions? Since it is not in the canon, can it be changed?


I think this is potentially volatile with recent research indicating that some of the Vinaya literature is rather late. One monk told me straight that he thinks most of the stories surrounding why certain precepts came to exist are just later additions. The classical vihara system, as Bronkhorst argues, is post-Asoka. A lot of the formal rules and observances might have come to exist because of a material interest when Buddhist institutions with sponsors emerged. The benefactors wanted to see proper behavior and the rules reflect this. That's just one idea on the table though.

My opinion is that the monastic sangha exists in relationship with the lay community. If forms established due to certain cultural conditions rather than scriptural reasons alienate the lay people in a modern context, that needs to be examined.


I think it is inevitable. Trying to adhere to 5th century Magadha cultural expectations anywhere in the present day is impossible.




The difficult questions these Buddhist organizations must ask themselves is the one of continuity. While the weiyi or dignified form may inspire faith in the Chinese diaspora, what about their children? Do the kids born in Western countries feel comfortable enough with the stern flavour to continue coming to the temple or is a more casual approach warranted?



I know some Vietnamese-Canadian monks who love hockey and play street hockey out in the temple parking lot.

I imagine their elders would have never gotten away with it. Here in Taiwan you'd be scolded severely if as a bunch of monks you went out into the temple parking lot and played hockey. Nevertheless, they're pretty down to earth and I think their peers, both at the temple and elsewhere, feel comfortable approaching them.

The more traditional dignified bearing a monastic is expected to uphold just puts a lot of people off. In Asia historically it was something the laity might have expected and revered, but younger generations, brought up with ideas of social equality, might not be so keen on it.


Young adults simply do not come to the temple- it is for older women and kids whose parents force them to go.


Yeah, I've noticed that as well. As was mentioned earlier by Anders and Ven. Huifeng, there are plenty of young people who show up to retreats and so on, but I have to wonder how many of them continue to do so after they graduate and start working fifty plus hours a week.


If there is a change of regime within the PRC, there could be great potential as the people have been separated from real Buddhist practice for so long, but in HK/Taiwan/Singapore and the Chinese diaspora it seems to me that Buddhism is in decline.


The statistics all seem to indicate this (Taiwan included though the statistics are kind of up in the air).

One thing a lot of the huge Buddhist organizations need to face is that when the older generation (predominately ladies with some men) dies off, they might not have the same number of members. They might end up like the Catholic Church in the west with vast amounts of property and buildings, but hardly anyone making use of them.

Internationalization would offset this, but to become really international would require reforms that just won't happen, at least as far as I can surmise.
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Re: Challenges to Chinese Buddhism in the diaspora

Postby JKhedrup » Wed Nov 07, 2012 10:44 am

Many of the Viet Namese sangha seem a little bit more relaxed, especially the ones in the West.

I know that Thich Nhat Hanh has formulated regulations that are aimed at being friendlier and more accessible, though I have to admit I find the conduct of some of his sangha feels a bit more rehearsed than natural to me. His revised Vinaya is fascinating reading but a source of huge contention in the Viet Namese Buddhist community.
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Re: Challenges to Chinese Buddhism in the diaspora

Postby Indrajala » Wed Nov 07, 2012 2:15 pm

JKhedrup wrote:Many of the Viet Namese sangha seem a little bit more relaxed, especially the ones in the West.

I know that Thich Nhat Hanh has formulated regulations that are aimed at being friendlier and more accessible, though I have to admit I find the conduct of some of his sangha feels a bit more rehearsed than natural to me. His revised Vinaya is fascinating reading but a source of huge contention in the Viet Namese Buddhist community.


I believe the strict level of decorum you have observed in the Chinese sangha might be in part a reaction to perceived failures in the past. 20th century Chinese Buddhist authors at times lament the lack of discipline and the mere formality of the Vinaya in China. In China before the communist takeover the land was dotted with little temples. The few monks with full precepts were sent to special ordination halls to go through the motions of getting precepts and certification over the course of a few weeks before returning and perhaps never thinking about it again. In general it was just expected a monk would remain celibate, not drink and keep their head shaved. Even then there seems to have been plenty of horror stories.

So the post-WWII reformists insisted on a return to discipline and they had both the opportunity and means to do so, especially in Taiwan. When the KMT moved to Taiwan after being defeated by the communists on the mainland, Buddhism was rather mixed and not specifically Chinese. There was a lot of hybrid Buddho-Daoist temples and of course some Japanese influences as well. The native Taiwanese having just come out of fifty years of Japanese colonial rule were not really Chinese, though refugees from the mainland coupled with a strict education system which forced Mandarin on the populace ensured it quickly became thoroughly Chinese.

In such an environment building new Buddhists organizations from the ground up was possible because they did not have to contend with long established institutions and hierarchies. The monks from the mainland were basically free agents. Visionaries under the influences of the works of Hongyi and Taixu, among others, reformed Chinese Buddhism into something rather new.

At the same time come the fifties and sixties a lot of western works on anthropology and social history were available, introducing thoroughly western ideas into the mix. Ideas such as "high level religions" as opposed to "primitive religions" are likewise to be found in Chinese works by at least the 60s, if not earlier. I think this notion especially prompted some Buddhist thinkers to see a compelling need to preserve discipline, doctrine and character in the face of other "high level religions"; specifically, Catholicism, which at the time was a roaring well-organized global religion that could easily stand to outdo Chinese Buddhism. I believe this also contributed to the purging of Daoist and native practices and deities from many Buddhist temples in Taiwan. No doubt such Daoist and native folk traditions were seen by some as "primitive", having no place in the "high level" religion of Buddhism. If they wanted to preserve Buddhism as a "high level" religion, then the primitive elements, which were heterodox infiltrations anyway, had to be cleansed away. This is why you don't see Daoist deities at the temples of the new organizations, though at the traditional local temples they're all there.

We saw very reformed and non-traditional organizations develop in Taiwan which at the same time insisted they were thoroughly orthodox, representing a proper Chinese Buddhism. Humanistic Buddhism, an active and intentional movement towards socially engaged progressive religion, arose from these factors as well.

The success of the project is clearly visible, though I have come to wonder if it will really appeal to younger generations. The reforms were not really organic in the sense of naturally developing in the direction that they did. Rather, they were swift and intentional reforms to what previous generations of monks and nuns thought was a broken and unhealthy Chinese Buddhism.

Still, I don't think we'll see this in Chinese Buddhism anytime soon:

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Re: Challenges to Chinese Buddhism in the diaspora

Postby JKhedrup » Wed Nov 07, 2012 11:32 pm

Fascinating Huseng. Due to my lack of Chinese language I was only able to observe things on the surface so it is always interesting to hear your views, and more about the history behind how things developed. There is a sore lack of research on the modern development of Buddhism in Taiwan, I wish there was more available to read.
At least, though, to a certain degree the Sangha in Taiwan seems to be respected. I understand that many in Hong Kong view it was inauspicious to cross the path of a monk. Two noted Buddhist masters- Ven. Hsuan Hua and Lama Yeshe - made the same remark about HK "There is no dharma in this place".
Although these days there seems to be a broad choice of options there.
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Re: Challenges to Chinese Buddhism in the diaspora

Postby BuddhaSoup » Wed Nov 07, 2012 11:50 pm

I'm way off topic here, but I wanted to comment. I have studied and practiced in a few different traditions over many years, and spent time in Thailand as a samanera. I did observe what you have observed, temple life dominated by the female laity, along with some children brought to temple by their families or as part of the school functions from next door. The sense is that devoted Buddhist practice isn't on a top ten bullet list for most Thai young people.

Having said that, I do spend time with youtubes of Dhamma/Dharma talks of Ajahn Brahm of Perth. Aside from enjoying and appreciating his talks and the way he presents and packages his talks to the many lay people that gather, he also is a strong scholar and a serious monk. He seems to grasp the ability to be very traditional, technical and scholarly, while delivering his message in a way that cannot help but be attractive to young people seeking 'medicine' for the sickness of modern society.

In other words, he's got a good thing going, and seems to be building a large sangha with a wide demographic. Maybe he's on to something, that others from the various schools and traditions could emulate?
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Re: Challenges to Chinese Buddhism in the diaspora

Postby Indrajala » Thu Nov 08, 2012 1:10 am

JKhedrup wrote:At least, though, to a certain degree the Sangha in Taiwan seems to be respected.


It depends.

Within the organizations there is a strong atmosphere of respect and even affection for monastics, but outside when you sit down with Taiwanese for coffee who might be Buddhist, albeit not a member of any specific organization, you will hear their complaints.

A lot of ordinary Taiwanese people like Buddhism, but there is sometimes a perception that the temples are overly concerned with money and donations rather than Dharma. They see these massive temples constructed with beautiful statues and various other eye-catching things, yet what about the Buddha's teachings? In order to build and then maintain such institutions you need staff and this entails a regular income, which of course comes through donations. People here know about how Buddhists are not supposed to "be attached to things", yet they often see otherwise on the ground.

One Taiwanese Buddhist organization has this weird rule that before you can become a member you need to get US$100 donations from something like three or four people. It sounds like a pyramid scheme, but it is just their way of getting an income it seems.

One other issue is that the rule that laity don't slander monastics is often understood as not criticizing them. There is of course a difference between attacking the views and decisions made by someone, and then attacking the person ad hominem. This means laity are discouraged from making their concerns heard. The assumption is that laity don't understand enough to make educated criticism, and that they harm the Sangha aspect of the Triple Gem, so they had best not say anything negative.

In the present when Taiwanese people are generally highly educated and often well read, that doesn't go over well with critically minded people who want to ask questions and get good answers.
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Re: Challenges to Chinese Buddhism in the diaspora

Postby plwk » Thu Nov 08, 2012 3:04 am

Still, I don't think we'll see this in Chinese Buddhism anytime soon:

Ahem....


And a sample of the classical Compassion Samadhi Water Dharma Repentance set into a musical by Tzu Chi...
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Re: Challenges to Chinese Buddhism in the diaspora

Postby Huifeng » Thu Nov 08, 2012 4:57 am

Chinese Buddhism covers a huge amount of area and people, and there is huge variation within that. While many of the above posts are fairly on the mark, keep variation in mind, because there is a lot of it. Also, the very idea of "weiyi" that you describe above could also be broken down into different aspects, eg. weiyi proper (ie. iryapatha), dharma rite style weiyi, vinaya, chan hall style cultivation, and so there is a variation of various things. One group may emphasize one, but not the others, etc.

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Re: Challenges to Chinese Buddhism in the diaspora

Postby JKhedrup » Thu Nov 08, 2012 8:52 am

Yes this is good to keep in mind. Some of the weiyi must come from the Vinaya. I noticed that many of the rules about eating seem to be slight developments based on the Vinaya Sekhiya (Rules of Deportment)- not chewing loudly, not taking huge bites etc. This evolved into the monastic style of eating that you see today. I think it is a lovely practice and Trungpa Rinpoche took aspects of this (perhaps more the Japanese style) in the training forms he developed for Westerners.

I have to say that there were certain aspects of the formality of Chinese ritual that I enjoyed. The Fa Hui (sic?) or dharma functions for example were beautiful, especially the chanting. But how we were supposed to carry ourselves as monastics and interact with laypeople seemed very regimented. More so than in Thai Buddhism- where even though physical contact with women was even more of a taboo, they way that we could speak to and interact with people seemed more open.
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Re: Challenges to Chinese Buddhism in the diaspora

Postby Huifeng » Thu Nov 08, 2012 11:56 am

Originally, and strictly speaking, weiyi 威儀 Skt. īrya-patha: Tib. spyod lam, just refers to actions within the four postures of walking, standing, sitting and lying down.

You can check the semantic extension via DDB http://www.buddhism-dict.net/cgi-bin/xp ... 1%E5%84%80

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Re: Challenges to Chinese Buddhism in the diaspora

Postby JKhedrup » Thu Nov 08, 2012 12:53 pm

Thanks Ven. Huifeng. This makes sense, and the Tibetan Illuminator Dictionary concurs with you about irya-patha.

I really wanted to check out your link but it requires a password before it will let you on the site :(

Conduct", "behaviour". Translated from the Sanskrit "īryāpatha". A commonly used term in buddhist literature. The term means more than just conduct or behaviour. It has the sense of "particular avenue of behaviour", which has no exact equivalent in English.



The Tibetan spyod lam is a general term that means conduct but in different contexts it can take on a very specific meaning, like the 4 Activities of sitting, walking etc. You often hear about spyod lam in the context of "A Bodhisattva's conduct", but the Illuminator dictionary talks about the 4 Types of Conduct you mentioned here:

spyod lam rnam pa bzhi
<noun>phrase> "The four types of conduct". These are ལུས་ཀྱི་སྤྱོད་ལམ་རྣམ་པ་བཞི་ four types of conduct, meaning general behaviour or activity in relation to body. [DGT] gives as: 1) འགྲོ་བ་ "going"; 2) འདུག་པ་ "staying"; 3) ཉལ་བ་ "lying"; 4) འཆག་པ་ "up and about". Note that the fourth means "up and moving about, not just standing in place".
Note that these are two pairs of opposites. The first two and second two go together. Note also that the fourth does not mean "walking". It is derived from the Sanskrit sthānaṃ / sthita which is sometimes translated e.g., in the Bodhisatvabhūmi, into Tibetan with འགྲེང་བ་ meaning "to stand". It has the sense in fact not of "standing" but of "being up" as opposed to "lying down".
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Re: Challenges to Chinese Buddhism in the diaspora

Postby viniketa » Thu Nov 08, 2012 4:42 pm

JKhedrup wrote:I really wanted to check out your link but it requires a password before it will let you on the site


Here is a link to the public site:

http://www.buddhism-dict.net/dealt/

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Re: Challenges to Chinese Buddhism in the diaspora

Postby Indrajala » Thu Nov 08, 2012 4:45 pm

viniketa wrote:
JKhedrup wrote:I really wanted to check out your link but it requires a password before it will let you on the site


Here is a link to the public site:

http://www.buddhism-dict.net/dealt/

:namaste:


Just type "guest" with no password to access the DDB.
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Re: Challenges to Chinese Buddhism in the diaspora

Postby icylake » Fri Nov 09, 2012 2:44 pm

i think the situation in east asian country is very different from that of south-east asian countries. (i myself am a korean liveing in Taiwan, so my english... :shrug: ) east asia never have been "Buddhist countries', or never have been buddhism dominating countries. in China, Korea the main political religion(philosophy) had been always counfucism, not Buddhism. for hundred years, Buddhism was women's religion, except some scholors and literaties like Zen practitioners and huayan sutra study, the literaties always kept their buddhism in the private area, especially Ming-QIng dynasty in China and Josen dynasty in Korea, so..frankly speaking we east asiasn have no concept like "born into Christian"like most of westerners or "Born into Buddhists"like south east asian countries. take my fammily for example, those who go to temple pray regualry are always my grand mother and mother. whereas my grand father and father don't, but after retirement, they started hwadu Zen practition and reading diamond sutra along with many counfucism canons like "Lun yu", "Da Xue" i don't know if their attitude for buddhism is "faith" or not. and sometimes they would go to temple to meet monk to chat over calligraphy and ink painting...but they never prayed like pious lay women..in east asia, "excessive concern to religion"is regarded as some what like "losing middle path". and the dual standard ; buddhism, for women/inner relationship, confucism for men/outer. social relationship, is quite distinctive. reading sutra and understanding zen atmosphere are quite admirable. but lf you take it too seriously,that may seemed to be "uneasonable", don't forget over thousand years, east asia has been the most secular area in the world..
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Re: Challenges to Chinese Buddhism in the diaspora

Postby Huifeng » Sat Nov 10, 2012 2:49 am

Hi Icylake,

While I can appreciate that you have your own point of view from Korea and now living in Taiwan, my own experiences of Taiwan differ a fair bit. I know quite a lot of young people who really were born and raised Buddhist, from their whole families, being part of Buddhist programs as kids, and then Buddhist youth groups later, and continuing that as they reach maturity.

However, I'm not exactly regular down-town Taibei or back street Hualian, as I myself am full time in such organizations and activities. So, the young people I meet are that whole side of things. While 50+ years ago, there was a tendency to see Buddhism as for grandma and grandpa, that is definitely not the case in Taiwan now. The whole "humanistic Buddhism" movement has changed that quite powerfully. Likewise, the changes in women's status in the community, less imperative to marry (Taiwan has one of the lowest birth rates in the world), etc. mean that young women can choose this option quite early in life. But the changes of humanistic Buddhism mean that such Buddhist involvement is not just "internal" to the home / family, but can be very active in society / community. Men often take power roles in Buddhism without it being effeminizing (sp?). eg. the president of the Guomin Dang political party is a well known supporter of Buddhism. Compulsory military obligations for young men takes it toll, though. But, this is ever decreasing in length, and will soon not even exist. I suspect that the involvement of young Taiwanese men in Buddhism will then show a slight increase.

I'd also argue that at many - not all - points of Chinese history Buddhism has been the default religion. Chinese often joke that the Korean's are better Confucians than the Chinese! And the influence from Buddhism on the neo-Confucians (lixue) and neo-Daoists, is much stronger than the other way around. In Taiwan, the originally Daoist cult of Mazu has now almost been co-opted by the Buddhists, she has become a form of Guanyin. The traditions of Yiguan Dao and the like often take Maitreya as their main object of worship. Haven't seen any Buddhist worshiping the Jade Emporer yet, and old Kong Fu Zi has not even been deified by Chinese Buddhists that I see.

Just my take on Taiwanese Buddhism, for what it's worth. We're obviously seeing different sides of Buddhism here. :namaste:

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Re: Challenges to Chinese Buddhism in the diaspora

Postby icylake » Sat Nov 10, 2012 7:21 pm

hi. Huifeng.

thank you for your kind reply.
i appreciate the vivid atmosphere of taiwanese human buddhism also. really valuable. :twothumbsup:
and i found that there are many dimmensions in taiwanese buddhism as you indicated. especially more taiwanese(本土化) buddhist temples would have more syncretistic, taoist atmosphere, they chant sutras in Fukien dialect(min nan yu)along with many taoist script. and there followers are almost middle aged women speaking fukianese(taiwanese) .whereas the four devas have more mainland, orthodox buddhist atmosphere, and at the same time heve more modernized organization. they are the main power of the Human buddhism, and the true succesors of venerable Yin Shun fa shi.
:namaste: - i
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Re: Challenges to Chinese Buddhism in the diaspora

Postby Devotionary » Sun Nov 11, 2012 4:30 pm

From my own experience as a third-generation descendant of Chinese immigrants, Chinese Buddhism may just be an avenue for cultural awareness; like a previous poster said, a meeting place for overseas Chinese youth, and not really a place for practice.

On the other hand--at least for South-east Asian Chinese communities (yes, they are still part of the overseas diaspora)--a lot of young people get into Buddhist practice PRECISELY because temples are a meeting place for Chinese culture enthusiasts; getting back to your roots is used as an expedient means to attract students who seek to find out more about the profundity of Chinese culture, which leads to a more in-depth understanding of Buddhism, which forms an integral part of their identity. (The strong presence of overseas branches for Taiwan's main Buddhist organizations in SE Asia seem to indicate this.)

I think the challenge is more of a Western thing....
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Re: Challenges to Chinese Buddhism in the diaspora

Postby Huifeng » Mon Nov 12, 2012 2:01 am

Devotionary wrote:...
I think the challenge is more of a Western thing....


Aha! I think you may have hit the nail on the head... ;)
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