Buddhism and Culture - East and West

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Re: Buddhism and Culture - East and West

Postby Indrajala » Thu May 02, 2013 6:00 pm

dyanaprajna2011 wrote:But Buddhism, as taught by Shakyamuni, is not tied to any one culture. It goes where it's needed.


That's why it was able to spread from Persia to Japan and everywhere in between as some point or another.

Still, as an outsider don't expect people to hear you if you tell them their cultural practices are not Dharma. Eating like a Chinese aristocrat is no more conducive to liberation than eating with your hands off a banana leaf, so let people eat any which way they please. Why waste years and years of your life learning how to behave in polite society according to how others expect you to behave when you could be pursuing liberation?

This is one reason why I got turned off from Taiwanese Buddhism. They place so much emphasis on superficial etiquette and worry about the image they present to the world.

India is great though because people do what they want. If you want to eat with your hands, go for it. Chopsticks? Sure. Fork? That's fine, too. Watch some TV in the evening? Sure, chill out. Walk around in dirty robes? That's fine, too. A ragged yogi is highly respected.
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Re: Buddhism and Culture - East and West

Postby Seishin » Thu May 02, 2013 6:01 pm

Critical thinking rather than finger pointing? :shrug:
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Re: Buddhism and Culture - East and West

Postby Indrajala » Thu May 02, 2013 6:04 pm

Seishin wrote:Critical thinking rather than finger pointing? :shrug:


It's only slander if it is motivated by anger and/or is baseless.
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Re: Buddhism and Culture - East and West

Postby Seishin » Thu May 02, 2013 8:19 pm

I'd add to that... pure conjecture without real knowledge can be damaging to both involved. The Buddha criticised a great many people, however I'd argue that he had the wisdom to do so, where-as I (and a great many others) don't. :tongue:

Thank you for this interesting discussion Ven.

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Re: Buddhism and Culture - East and West

Postby Luke » Fri May 03, 2013 12:55 am

Indrajala wrote:This is one reason why I got turned off from Taiwanese Buddhism. They place so much emphasis on superficial etiquette and worry about the image they present to the world.

India is great though because people do what they want. If you want to eat with your hands, go for it. Chopsticks? Sure. Fork? That's fine, too. Watch some TV in the evening? Sure, chill out. Walk around in dirty robes? That's fine, too. A ragged yogi is highly respected.

And how do you think Japan and Korea compare? Are the cultural expectations in these countries very similiar to those in Taiwan?
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Re: Buddhism and Culture - East and West

Postby Hickersonia » Fri May 03, 2013 1:49 am

Indrajala wrote:India is great though because people do what they want. If you want to eat with your hands, go for it. Chopsticks? Sure. Fork? That's fine, too. Watch some TV in the evening? Sure, chill out. Walk around in dirty robes? That's fine, too. A ragged yogi is highly respected.

Sounds like my kinda place! :rolling:
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Re: Buddhism and Culture - East and West

Postby Indrajala » Fri May 03, 2013 3:29 am

Luke wrote:And how do you think Japan and Korea compare? Are the cultural expectations in these countries very similiar to those in Taiwan?


I don't know about Korea because I've never been there.

Japanese temples are usually spotless clean and when doing ceremonies the robes are likewise in pristine condition. This has a lot to do with Japanese ideas of cleanliness and holiness going hand in hand. So, just as a matter of principle the place is kept sparkling clean normally.

Japanese Buddhism has very different expectations from Taiwan. They wear ordinary clothes, live ordinary lives and function as masters of rites and grave keepers. There are serious practitioners, but they're not what most people see in their communities. In the old days (like up until the Meiji period) they were strict about celibacy and vegetarianism, or at least ostensibly so.

On the other hand, there are still a lot of matters of etiquette from ancient times that are still reproduced and followed like table manners (ori-oki bowls for example in Zen).

Modern Japanese Buddhism can be antinomian and iconoclastic when it is convenient. For example, they might have a tradition that originally laid down vegetarianism as a rule (and it was a serious rule with figures like Kukai, Saicho, Dogen and so on), but then they say the Buddha permitted meat eating for monks provided it was not heard, seen or suspected of being killed for oneself. They might call liquor "prajna soup". One monk explained to be all such contradictions were just "characteristic of Japanese Buddhism". I guess it is, but he was justifying behaviour that is contrary to tradition.

Still, despite that, they would attach great importance to superficial dining procedures and carry them out by the book.
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Re: Buddhism and Culture - East and West

Postby Indrajala » Fri May 03, 2013 3:32 am

Hickersonia wrote:Sounds like my kinda place! :rolling:


I met some Indian nuns who had ordained in Taiwan and literally ran away from their organization there because of the suffocating level of control and restrictions. One of them joked that now they could wear their socks and watch TV. They said that as Indians they just couldn't tolerate such a way of life as they had in Chinese Buddhism. I think they're happy they could become full bhiksunis, but they literally escaped a soul crushing institution.
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Re: Historical reasons for secrecy in Vajrayana?

Postby JKhedrup » Fri May 03, 2013 8:49 am

Tibetan Buddhists outside of the Tibetan cultural sphere should also hopefully divorce themselves from religious politics. As an outsider you're not going to have a voice anyway, so whatever the Tibetans are doing in Asia is of little consequence if you're on another continent. With very few exceptions I can't think of any non-Tibetan (minus Nepali, Bhutanese, etc...) that really has a voice in the religious politics of Tibetan


Some of the Tibetans,though, on other continents have a lot of influence. Don't forget the current PM of the exile government's home is in the US and he was educated at Harvard. Several lineage holders also spent large parts of their lives in the US, like the Drikung Kyabgon. And the Tibetan diaspora in the west have representation within the govt in exile, though of course many take issue with its decisions.

Ethnically western practitioners with influence are few, but there are some. Nicholas Vreeland is the abbot of Rato, an important monastery in India-the Tibetan monks answer to him,and he was appointed by votes with final approval of hhdl. Would this hapoen in taiwan or japan? Probably not. There are also a few academics, like Bob Thurman, and ven. Tenzin Palmo has an important position withinthe drukpa lineage and runs her own nunnery of himalayan nuns.
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Re: Historical reasons for secrecy in Vajrayana?

Postby Luke » Fri May 03, 2013 11:41 am

JKhedrup wrote:Ethnically western practitioners with influence are few, but there are some. Nicholas Vreeland is the abbot of Rato, an important monastery in India-the Tibetan monks answer to him,and he was appointed by votes with final approval of hhdl. Would this hapoen in taiwan or japan? Probably not. There are also a few academics, like Bob Thurman, and ven. Tenzin Palmo has an important position withinthe drukpa lineage and runs her own nunnery of himalayan nuns.

So things are changing slowly...

Don't lose heart, western monastics! We are proud of you, so just bravely keep going on your Buddhist paths! :) :anjali:
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Re: Buddhism and Culture - East and West

Postby Wayfarer » Fri May 03, 2013 11:45 am

There is 'the East' as a cultural archetype. Mythical, but no less real for that.
"Reality is an illusion, albeit a very persistent one" ~ Albert Einstein
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Re: Historical reasons for secrecy in Vajrayana?

Postby Indrajala » Fri May 03, 2013 11:56 am

JKhedrup wrote:Ethnically western practitioners with influence are few, but there are some.


I personally wouldn't want to be part of a club that put up endless barriers against me really being part of it.

But then at the end of the day I just want to roam around as a free agent and do my own thing.
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Re: Buddhism and Culture - East and West

Postby JKhedrup » Fri May 03, 2013 12:03 pm

There is sonething to be said for that. I would not want to spend long years at a Tibetan monastery, though at one time that was my dream. I like how my current position as a translator lets me keep a foot in both worlds. Fortunately also the geshe I translate for is very open minded culturally, some can be quite conservative and irascible.

Still, though, vens. Vreeland and palmo have my respect as people who succeeded in a closed system and have set a new paradigm for Westerners holding such positions.
Last edited by JKhedrup on Fri May 03, 2013 12:14 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Buddhism and Culture - East and West

Postby Indrajala » Fri May 03, 2013 12:14 pm

I think at the end of the day the rest of the Tibetan Buddhist world (in the west) will have to go its own way. Tibetan Buddhism is in decline amongst Tibetans as their own population shrinks. Fewer youth want to sign up for monasticism if the economic times look reasonably good enough.

If people go their own way, then it won't really matter if Tibetans really accept you or not. You can just do your own thing and feel perfectly legit and right about it.
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Re: Buddhism and Culture - East and West

Postby dharmagoat » Fri May 03, 2013 12:22 pm

Indrajala wrote:You can just do your own thing and feel perfectly legit and right about it.

I am certainly an advocate of finding one's own way, but isn't this at odds with how Buddhism is traditionally practiced?
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Re: Buddhism and Culture - East and West

Postby shaunc » Fri May 03, 2013 12:40 pm

I fully understand that good table manners, etiquette, personal hygiene, etc will not lead to enlightenment. However would it also be true that by observing these customs & societal expectations would also lead to less discord both within & outside the sangha. Maybe I'm wrong but I do believe that when in Rome do as the Romans do. This goes both ways as well, I also believe that when ordained people come to a western country they should also follow the locals as best they can, within reason of course.
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Re: Buddhism and Culture - East and West

Postby BuddhaSoup » Fri May 03, 2013 1:23 pm

I am certainly an advocate of finding one's own way, but isn't this at odds with how Buddhism is traditionally practiced?


This might be slightly off topic, but I'm gonna plug Ven. Indrajala's new article anyway: http://huayanzang.blogspot.com/2013/05/ ... dhism.html

I often find Ven. Indrajala's writings good food for thought. Since he's not likely to toot his own horn, I'll toot this one for him today.
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Re: Buddhism and Culture - East and West

Postby Indrajala » Fri May 03, 2013 2:46 pm

dharmagoat wrote:
Indrajala wrote:You can just do your own thing and feel perfectly legit and right about it.

I am certainly an advocate of finding one's own way, but isn't this at odds with how Buddhism is traditionally practiced?


Conformity to orthodoxy is generally an aspect of organized religion.

I think to some extent this is necessary like karma, rebirth and so on, but everything else is up in the air and should be open to discussion.
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Re: Buddhism and Culture - East and West

Postby Indrajala » Fri May 03, 2013 3:00 pm

shaunc wrote:Maybe I'm wrong but I do believe that when in Rome do as the Romans do. This goes both ways as well, I also believe that when ordained people come to a western country they should also follow the locals as best they can, within reason of course.


Yes and no.

In Taiwan outside of monasteries nobody eats "like a dragon clutching a pearl". Rather they lean over the table and get close to their meal before chowing down. Very efficient way of eating and it prevents messes.

The prescribed table manners in monasteries actually just promote and affirm class differences. The powers that be perhaps feel better associating themselves with aristocratic culture, hence the aristocratic table manners.

If it was a matter of conforming to prevailing social customs, they would eat like ordinary people, but you'll often hear how they want to distinguish themselves from common folk.

This is an interesting cultural difference between Chinese Buddhism as it exists in Taiwan and Buddhism as I've seen it around India and Nepal.

The latter is much more proletariat/pleb-friendly. In India you can eat any way you please: with your hands or with utensils, or maybe both. You can lick your plate if it suits you. You can sit there with dirty bare feet and nobody cares. Laugh and talk while eating breakfast, lunch and dinner. Make jokes over the food about the locals using cow dung for various purposes inside their houses. Men and women sit together. It isn't a big deal. Nobody calls dinner medicine meal because they don't need to make a BS excuse for eating dinner despite it being against some ancient Vinaya rules.

Chinese Buddhism as it was reinvented in Taiwan is suffocating with rules, regulations and prescriptions, which is why it doesn't really spread overseas outside of the Chinese community.

A bit of anarchy and harmless chaos is good for the soul.
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Re: Buddhism and Culture - East and West

Postby Seishin » Fri May 03, 2013 4:21 pm

My knowledge of Vinaya is little to non, but isn't a lot of it about how people look and behave? Isn't what's in the Vinaya more to do with aesthetics and harmony within the sangha than to do with enlightenment? Could the Vinaya be considered "cultural"? And could living harmoniously within a culture be more conducive to enlightenment within that country than trying to go against the grain?

That being said I completely understand how trying to become a monk/nun in another country can be very problematic due to cultural differences. And I think that if a Temple is offering international ordinations then they shouldn't push their own cultural habbits too much and be a little more understanding.

However I think we in the west, with our free lifestyle (ie our culture), can often be too critical over another countries culture. If Buddhism is part of a country then, in my opinion, it should follow the cultural of that country in order to be harmonious with that country. However, if the culture is detrimental to Buddhism (as Indrajala is suggesting) then in my opinion Buddhism should point these things out and try to change. This can be a taboo subject, especially when countries are so stringent with their cultural practices. It's not always that easy.

My humble two pennies (Brit culture! :tongue: )

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