Shopping for a tradition

Shopping for a tradition

Postby Jikan » Tue Feb 05, 2013 6:09 pm

This came up in reflecting on the Treeleaf Sangha thread:

viewtopic.php?f=69&t=11691

Historically, if you were interested in hearing and practicing the Dharma, you'd have to convince your family to let you leave the farm or the village, find a temple that would take a chance on you, and then learn and practice whatever was presented to you. This last bit is not such a bad approach: if the teachings are medicine given to alleviate the particular afflictions of the student, then it follows that the teacher is in a better position to diagnose and prescribe appropriate forms of practice for the student than the student who chooses to self-medicate.

I've noticed that in recent years people get interested in practice through reading or poking around online, convince themselves that a particular approach is the one for them (maybe it "resonates" for them), and then actively seek out a teacher who will give that particular kind of teaching on the student's terms. It's not unlike shopping: you identify with a particular kind of brand, and then you go out and get it. In this sense, the teachings have become to such students just another consumer good. I like This Zen brand meditation, not That Zen brand.

What gets lost in the process? The opportunity for the teacher to turn the student's world rightside-up. Why? Because the teacher is put in the position of giving the student what he or she wants, and not necessarily what he or she needs. What else gets lost in the process? It may be that some teachers commit to a race to the bottom in publicly crafting a brand for their school that emphasizes desirability (that is, promoting the idea that we give people what they want). Branding, after all, is competitive; Our School is not Your School. What emerges from this? Sectarian arrogance, perhaps, but also a feeling that others have a sinister view of your own school... how could they not, if they choose to practice with Them instead of Us?

I'd like to know what others think of this.

(I have some other ideas on teachers who willingly participate in such an arrangement, but I'm still thinking them through.)
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Re: Shopping for a tradition

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Tue Feb 05, 2013 6:20 pm

I think you are onto something, but I am not sure how that would work for modern westerners, especially laypeople. It seems like the model is preferable, but because of the sort of lives we lead, mostly unworkable. There is also the issue with the fact that in The West we just don't seem to accept the same kind of pedagogical relationships.

You see alot of westerners who want to get into Buddhism, and yet do not want any "trappings", and don't even seemingly want to acknowledge the authority of teachers at all - I've seen people basically shrug at the fact that a teacher spent half his life studying in a monastery etc... you see this in areas completely outside Buddhism too, being a cultural studies person i'm sure you'd have more insight on this than me. What we seem to end up with is actually a very narrow form of Buddhism that actually accommodates a very narrow group of rational-minded, individualistic middle class westerners. Accommodate being the operative word..never challenge, which you would think is important.

I know i've had to shop, this is the model usually available to us, like it or not.

This is true of so many things, there are direct parallels here to teaching martial arts and similar things too..if you are true to what you teach you end up with like ...one fifth of the people you would have if you just decided to "brand" yourself and give people just what they want. This will sound really grumpy, but I think many people looking around at least start off wanting reinforcement or confirmation rather than challenge, and this makes any kind of real effort at earnestly improving oneself difficult, if someone won't accept that medicine isn't always supposed to taste great, how can a doctor get them to take it?
Last edited by Johnny Dangerous on Tue Feb 05, 2013 6:46 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Shopping for a tradition

Postby Karma Dorje » Tue Feb 05, 2013 6:46 pm

People are always impelled by past aspirations, meritorious actions and interconnections. They may think that they are "shopping" but really they are just drawn to those things which are most familiar to them. In the West, most of us have obviously not spent a lot of time compared to the much older civilizations in India, China and the Far East. It's only natural that we are drawn to where our longest history was.
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Re: Shopping for a tradition

Postby Jainarayan » Tue Feb 05, 2013 7:15 pm

Johnny Dangerous wrote:You see alot of westerners who want to get into Buddhism, and yet do not want any "trappings", and don't even seemingly want to acknowledge the authority of teachers at all - I've seen people basically shrug at the fact that a teacher spent half his life studying in a monastery etc...


I had a very similar conversation on this subject with someone (a Zen Buddhist). We agreed, snarky as our outlook was, that westerners who want to get into Buddhism are usually middle-aged hippies who adopt it as an affectation, sitting on the floor, burning incense and chanting OM. They crow and chirp about becoming vegetarian and being "Buddhist". Sorry if I sound snarky and I daresay bitter, but most of the time, I and my conversational partner agreed, this is a passing fancy. In the west, submitting wholely and whole-heartedly to a guru or a lama is abhorrent.

I know i've had to shop, this is the model usually available to us, like it or not.


I didn't shop, I just found a name for my belief system. :mrgreen:
Worthy, wise and virtuous: Who is energetic and not indolent, in misfortune unshaken,
flawless in manner and intelligent, such one will honor gain. - Digha Nikaya III 273
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Re: Shopping for a tradition

Postby Matt J » Tue Feb 05, 2013 7:43 pm

I've been involved with several groups and retreats around the country and I have met few, if any who fit that mold. I find that many people who come to practice do so after a personal crisis (divorce, death of a close person, loss of a job), and most seem sincere in their practice.

Jainarayan wrote: We agreed, snarky as our outlook was, that westerners who want to get into Buddhism are usually middle-aged hippies who adopt it as an affectation, sitting on the floor, burning incense and chanting OM. They crow and chirp about becoming vegetarian and being "Buddhist".
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If only there is no picking or choosing
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Re: Shopping for a tradition

Postby Matt J » Tue Feb 05, 2013 7:49 pm

It is hard for me to say what is best for others. The Bhagavad Gita says that no effort on the path is ever wasted. So how can I say that a particular person doesn't benefit in some way from a particular approach? It is hard to judge since our views are conditioned and narrow--- we are conditioned and narrow beings, after all. Seen in a wide scope, who is to say that the seeds planted today don't sprout into something grand tomorrow?

Jikan wrote:I'd like to know what others think of this.
The Great Way is not difficult
If only there is no picking or choosing
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Re: Shopping for a tradition

Postby Karma Dorje » Tue Feb 05, 2013 8:02 pm

Matt J wrote:It is hard for me to say what is best for others. The Bhagavad Gita says that no effort on the path is ever wasted. So how can I say that a particular person doesn't benefit in some way from a particular approach? It is hard to judge since our views are conditioned and narrow--- we are conditioned and narrow beings, after all. Seen in a wide scope, who is to say that the seeds planted today don't sprout into something grand tomorrow?


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Re: Shopping for a tradition

Postby Jainarayan » Tue Feb 05, 2013 8:34 pm

Matt J wrote:I've been involved with several groups and retreats around the country and I have met few, if any who fit that mold. I find that many people who come to practice do so after a personal crisis (divorce, death of a close person, loss of a job), and most seem sincere in their practice.

Jainarayan wrote: We agreed, snarky as our outlook was, that westerners who want to get into Buddhism are usually middle-aged hippies who adopt it as an affectation, sitting on the floor, burning incense and chanting OM. They crow and chirp about becoming vegetarian and being "Buddhist".


That's good to hear. I shouldn't have given the impression that all western Buddhist adoptees are those New Agers. Those who are sincere, I wish them well. Sometimes it takes a life altering event to make someone turn to the less mundane. I know personally I've gotten through things only because of it.
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flawless in manner and intelligent, such one will honor gain. - Digha Nikaya III 273
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Re: Shopping for a tradition

Postby Jainarayan » Tue Feb 05, 2013 8:38 pm

Matt J wrote:who is to say that the seeds planted today don't sprout into something grand tomorrow?


Just as a side note, that is how Geshe Michael Roach interpretes and explains the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: we are always planting good and bad seeds and watching how they sprout. We don't always know just what kind of a plant will grow from a particular seed.
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flawless in manner and intelligent, such one will honor gain. - Digha Nikaya III 273
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Re: Shopping for a tradition

Postby Astus » Tue Feb 05, 2013 8:57 pm

I don't see anything new about this "shopping for a tradition" except that it is compared to consumerism. True, poor farmers had little chance to spend time off the field pursuing spiritual goals, and those who did had to become monks. On the other hand, the nobility and the literati had enough freedom to pick and choose as they liked. In the imperial courts all sorts of religions were present and all of them were vying for support from the ruling class and especially the emperor. The development of the Zen school is closely connected to political powers from the very beginning, from the initial strengthening of Shenxiu's so called "Northern School", through Shenhui gaining support for his "Southern School", the rising of Mazu's "Hongzhou School" because of the newly gained freedom of local lords, and so on. Monasteries require the support of the wealthy and powerful. The more support you get the bigger the monastery becomes, plus all the benefits that comes with it. Lose that support and you can lose everything in no time. It was always in the interest of Buddhism, just as any organised religion, to gain legitimacy and financial aid from the lords of the land. To give a European example, the survival of Christianity and its becoming the dominant religion depended first on the Roman emperors and then the kings, and when later Luther got the support of Frederick III of Saxony he managed for the first time to secure the survival of a heretic sect (although others have tried before). So, it is not just that people are shopping for a tradition, but every religion must sell themselves.
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Re: Shopping for a tradition

Postby Yudron » Tue Feb 05, 2013 8:59 pm

Jainarayan wrote:
Johnny Dangerous wrote:You see alot of westerners who want to get into Buddhism, and yet do not want any "trappings", and don't even seemingly want to acknowledge the authority of teachers at all - I've seen people basically shrug at the fact that a teacher spent half his life studying in a monastery etc...


I had a very similar conversation on this subject with someone (a Zen Buddhist). We agreed, snarky as our outlook was, that westerners who want to get into Buddhism are usually middle-aged hippies who adopt it as an affectation, sitting on the floor, burning incense and chanting OM. They crow and chirp about becoming vegetarian and being "Buddhist". Sorry if I sound snarky and I daresay bitter, but most of the time, I and my conversational partner agreed, this is a passing fancy. In the west, submitting wholely and whole-heartedly to a guru or a lama is abhorrent.

I know i've had to shop, this is the model usually available to us, like it or not.


I didn't shop, I just found a name for my belief system. :mrgreen:


One little correction about us middle-aged hippies: We sit in chairs now, our old joints can't handle the floor.

There are a lot of us in my sangha. Maybe we tried to move on, but the lama had a love-harpoon.
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Re: Shopping for a tradition

Postby shel » Tue Feb 05, 2013 9:41 pm

Jikan wrote:This came up in reflecting on the Treeleaf Sangha thread:

viewtopic.php?f=69&t=11691

Historically, if you were interested in hearing and practicing the Dharma, you'd have to convince your family to let you leave the farm or the village, find a temple that would take a chance on you, and then learn and practice whatever was presented to you. This last bit is not such a bad approach: if the teachings are medicine given to alleviate the particular afflictions of the student, then it follows that the teacher is in a better position to diagnose and prescribe appropriate forms of practice for the student than the student who chooses to self-medicate.

I've noticed that in recent years people get interested in practice through reading or poking around online, convince themselves that a particular approach is the one for them (maybe it "resonates" for them), and then actively seek out a teacher who will give that particular kind of teaching on the student's terms. It's not unlike shopping: you identify with a particular kind of brand, and then you go out and get it. In this sense, the teachings have become to such students just another consumer good. I like This Zen brand meditation, not That Zen brand.

What gets lost in the process? The opportunity for the teacher to turn the student's world rightside-up. Why? Because the teacher is put in the position of giving the student what he or she wants, and not necessarily what he or she needs.

This does not reasonably follow from what you've written thus far. A brand of toothpaste is still toothpaste and serves the same basic function of all toothpaste brands. Why would a particular brand of toothpaste be ineffective merely because it was selected from a range of toothpaste brands?

What else gets lost in the process? It may be that some teachers commit to a race to the bottom in publicly crafting a brand for their school that emphasizes desirability (that is, promoting the idea that we give people what they want).

In my opinion brands are only negative when they are false, not necessarily because they may offer something that people want. If a business built a brand of toothpaste which was environmentally conscious, for example, and they promoted this fact, what is the downside? We would have toothpaste being manufacture with less of an impact on the environment and clean teeth. However if the manufacture were not actually environmentally conscious the brand would be meaningless and eventually fail.

Branding, after all, is competitive; Our School is not Your School. What emerges from this? Sectarian arrogance, perhaps, but also a feeling that others have a sinister view of your own school... how could they not, if they choose to practice with Them instead of Us?

If a school has the feeling that others have a sinister view of them there is probably a reason for that, which doesn't really have anything to do with brand promotion.
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Re: Shopping for a tradition

Postby Jainarayan » Tue Feb 05, 2013 9:48 pm

Yudron wrote:One little correction about us middle-aged hippies: We sit in chairs now, our old joints can't handle the floor.


True, even a pile of cushions doesn't keep my feet from falling asleep. :mrgreen:
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Re: Shopping for a tradition

Postby Sara H » Mon Feb 11, 2013 2:45 am

Jikan wrote:This came up in reflecting on the Treeleaf Sangha thread:

viewtopic.php?f=69&t=11691

Historically, if you were interested in hearing and practicing the Dharma, you'd have to convince your family to let you leave the farm or the village, find a temple that would take a chance on you, and then learn and practice whatever was presented to you. This last bit is not such a bad approach: if the teachings are medicine given to alleviate the particular afflictions of the student, then it follows that the teacher is in a better position to diagnose and prescribe appropriate forms of practice for the student than the student who chooses to self-medicate.

I've noticed that in recent years people get interested in practice through reading or poking around online, convince themselves that a particular approach is the one for them (maybe it "resonates" for them), and then actively seek out a teacher who will give that particular kind of teaching on the student's terms. It's not unlike shopping: you identify with a particular kind of brand, and then you go out and get it. In this sense, the teachings have become to such students just another consumer good. I like This Zen brand meditation, not That Zen brand.

What gets lost in the process? The opportunity for the teacher to turn the student's world rightside-up. Why? Because the teacher is put in the position of giving the student what he or she wants, and not necessarily what he or she needs. What else gets lost in the process? It may be that some teachers commit to a race to the bottom in publicly crafting a brand for their school that emphasizes desirability (that is, promoting the idea that we give people what they want). Branding, after all, is competitive; Our School is not Your School. What emerges from this? Sectarian arrogance, perhaps, but also a feeling that others have a sinister view of your own school... how could they not, if they choose to practice with Them instead of Us?

I'd like to know what others think of this.

(I have some other ideas on teachers who willingly participate in such an arrangement, but I'm still thinking them through.)

Well, before we had the same thing in the west.

It was called Christianity.

And everyone was expected to go to the same church.

The problem with the one-way approach, is that one way really doesn't work for everyone.

Not all Buddhism is the same either.

In Japan, sometimes abbots of both Soto and Rinzai monasteries, would send someone to the other monastery, letting the person running know, "hey I think this one's better for you..."

I agree, the "spiritual supermarket" can be a bit overwhelming for people, and I think over time, the merits of given lineages and practice will make their reputations known.

But not all teachers are equal for a given person's problem.

Sometimes, one person, really does know better how to handle a particular thing, and that student is better off with that person.

Like all else in meditation, in the end, we just have to listen to, and trust our intuition.

In Gassho,

Sara H.
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IT IS OUR CHOICE
We can stand in our shadow, and wallow in the darkness,
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We can turn around.
It is OUR choice." -Rev. Basil

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Re: Shopping for a tradition

Postby Jikan » Mon Feb 11, 2013 3:15 pm

Sara H wrote:Like all else in meditation, in the end, we just have to listen to, and trust our intuition.


Remarkably, that's the same kind of claim Joseph Smith made on behalf of the Book of Mormon: don't take my word for it but pray to God and see how you feel about the truth of the claims I've made in this book. Let your intuition be your guide! (and good luck finding any evidence for the existence of Jaredites, for instance).

For myself: my intuition is telling me that the highest truth is attained in a big bowl of ice cream and a couple of beers for breakfast. So that's where I'm headed in a moment, a self-diagnosed and sudsy satori. But first, I'd like to point out something I said at the top of this thread:

I've noticed that in recent years people get interested in practice through reading or poking around online, convince themselves that a particular approach is the one for them (maybe it "resonates" for them), and then actively seek out a teacher who will give that particular kind of teaching on the student's terms. It's not unlike shopping: you identify with a particular kind of brand, and then you go out and get it. In this sense, the teachings have become to such students just another consumer good. I like This Zen brand meditation, not That Zen brand.

What gets lost in the process? The opportunity for the teacher to turn the student's world rightside-up. Why? Because the teacher is put in the position of giving the student what he or she wants, and not necessarily what he or she needs. What else gets lost in the process? It may be that some teachers commit to a race to the bottom in publicly crafting a brand for their school that emphasizes desirability (that is, promoting the idea that we give people what they want). Branding, after all, is competitive; Our School is not Your School. What emerges from this? Sectarian arrogance, perhaps, but also a feeling that others have a sinister view of your own school... how could they not, if they choose to practice with Them instead of Us?


The "trust your intuition" line is a way to give yourself license not to use your noggin about nonsense notions you cling to as your own. It amounts to allowing a deluded person (you) to be your teacher, which is great if you like slopping around failing to learn the same dull lesson again and again and again, thinking you're learning something new...

William Blake wrote:...unable to do other than repeat the same dull round all over again


That's samsara for you. The old Prophet Against Empire was onto something. You're better off with a "devilish" teacher who will challenge you than one who, like an angel, appears to be whatever it is you identify with as "good" or "saintly" or whatever.
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Re: Shopping for a tradition

Postby randomseb » Mon Feb 11, 2013 3:52 pm

Matt J wrote:I've been involved with several groups and retreats around the country and I have met few, if any who fit that mold. I find that many people who come to practice do so after a personal crisis (divorce, death of a close person, loss of a job), and most seem sincere in their practice.


This is essentially where I am at now, but I see it more as I have a choice of trying to rebuild a new life in the muck, or taking the opportunity presented by this to let go and 'leave home'. In Asia one probably could just up and walk to different monastic centers until one found a connection with a Teacher, but here in the West, is that possible?
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Re: Shopping for a tradition

Postby Jikan » Mon Feb 11, 2013 3:58 pm

randomseb wrote:In Asia one probably could just up and walk to different monastic centers until one found a connection with a Teacher, but here in the West, is that possible?


That's usually the way: you make a connection with a teacher, you get to know each other, and at some point you ask and the teacher may or may not choose to ordain or train you. Different traditions do it somewhat differently.
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Re: Shopping for a tradition

Postby floating_abu » Mon Feb 11, 2013 4:06 pm

Sara H wrote:
Like all else in meditation, in the end, we just have to listen to, and trust our intuition.


Only a genuine master can differentiate.

As to the 'trust yourself' line, yes and no, yes in general, no when it comes to delusion. Cue the current LA killer who has sworn to defend is name and truth. Can you tell the difference?

No, no, no, listening to your own voice is nought but risk bearing...and yet of course who else can we keep counsel with?

A good (i.e. a real and accomplished) Master is the only one who can help in this regard, and God willing, there are still many around..
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Re: Shopping for a tradition

Postby floating_abu » Mon Feb 11, 2013 4:13 pm

Jikan wrote:What gets lost in the process? The opportunity for the teacher to turn the student's world rightside-up. Why? Because the teacher is put in the position of giving the student what he or she wants, and not necessarily what he or she needs. What else gets lost in the process? It may be that some teachers commit to a race to the bottom in publicly crafting a brand for their school that emphasizes desirability (that is, promoting the idea that we give people what they want). Branding, after all, is competitive; Our School is not Your School. What emerges from this? Sectarian arrogance, perhaps, but also a feeling that others have a sinister view of your own school... how could they not, if they choose to practice with Them instead of Us?

I'd like to know what others think of this.

(I have some other ideas on teachers who willingly participate in such an arrangement, but I'm still thinking them through.)


I think that this thread is rather superfluous.

So called "shopping" for a tradition/teacher/school is nought but part of the ordinary process of human exploration when one is first interested in Buddhism, assuming one was not born into the thing.

Only a fool would not sniff out, look into, and dip their toe once or twice into the waters before trying.

The "problems" that you mention such as sectarian arrogance, suspicion and otherly conduct are not caused by people having selected schools, it is caused by the same old stuff Lord Buddha tried to teach about over and over again -

greed, hatred and ignorance.

Delusion isn't a game, it's as real as they come in this world of light and shadows.

As one of my teachers used to say "anyone who says Zen is the best and only school is not a real Zen student". He certainly has his Zen teacher head screwed on right, with gratitude.

As for some teachers crafting a brand, certainly that happens. Look at the internet, there are a bunch of so called Zen teachers selling their craft, trying to attract students, market themself etc. But the problem is not that people are looking for a brand, that happens regardless. The problem is when there are not enough genuine vessels and worse, most people do not know how to differentiate themself, so they pick up a pile of dung and treat it as the nectar of the old Buddha schools. The problem, as always, is that there are insufficient practitioners of the right calibre, will and training - so that the real is lost, and the lost are real.

My opinion.

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Re: Shopping for a tradition

Postby PorkChop » Mon Feb 11, 2013 5:22 pm

Jainarayan wrote:
Johnny Dangerous wrote:You see alot of westerners who want to get into Buddhism, and yet do not want any "trappings", and don't even seemingly want to acknowledge the authority of teachers at all - I've seen people basically shrug at the fact that a teacher spent half his life studying in a monastery etc...


I had a very similar conversation on this subject with someone (a Zen Buddhist). We agreed, snarky as our outlook was, that westerners who want to get into Buddhism are usually middle-aged hippies who adopt it as an affectation, sitting on the floor, burning incense and chanting OM. They crow and chirp about becoming vegetarian and being "Buddhist". Sorry if I sound snarky and I daresay bitter, but most of the time, I and my conversational partner agreed, this is a passing fancy. In the west, submitting wholely and whole-heartedly to a guru or a lama is abhorrent.

I know i've had to shop, this is the model usually available to us, like it or not.


I didn't shop, I just found a name for my belief system. :mrgreen:


Love that quote at the end, it rings so true...

About the beginning, oddly enough most of the guys in my Buddhist circle are current or former martial artists, even the monk's a 5th dan Judo player and Kuk Sool Won Instructor (which is why i get confused that there is/can be any conflict). Not to echo the old adage "no athiests in foxholes", but a lot of the guys I know in fight sports and martial arts are very spiritual, be they Catholic, Buddhist, Muslim, or Baptist.

For the ones you mention I'm noticing there are typically 2 types of middle aged guys showing up: the hard core Seculars and the hippies.
The hippies are generally pretty mellow (at least until they find out you're not vegetarian or you work for the military) and pretty easy to get along with.
The hard core Seculars are tougher to deal with, needing Buddhism to be re-defined for them in a way that satisfies that Secular Sensibilities©. They are prone to throw conniption fits about the holocaust when conversations of karma come about. I imagine Theravada tends to get more of this second type than Mahayana, due to the Mahayana reputation among the "intellectual elite" for being the "silly, God-Buddha people with the fake sutras" (mocking sarcasm), but they still show up - maybe because none of the Theravada temples in town seem to provide any dialog in English.
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