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PostPosted: Fri May 03, 2013 4:38 pm 
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Seishin wrote:
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?


Much of the Vinaya literature, and lesser precepts especially, concern social etiquette appropriate to ancient India. For instance, don't eat garlic or elephant meat. Brahman culture absolutely detested garlic. However, smearing your room with cow dung was perfectly acceptable and reasonable. See the following:

https://sites.google.com/site/dharmadep ... c-and-dung

It isn't so much about harmony as it is about outward image projection. Vinaya culture comes from a later period of Indian Buddhism (maybe 1st century BCE or thereabouts) when mendicants were becoming monastics and had to rely on wealthy patrons for their rice and butter. At that point preserving image was critical to the success of the sangha. In the early days having homeless monks begging for food from villagers didn't require a tidy appearance, nor would it have been so practical.



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This can be a taboo subject, especially when countries are so stringent with their cultural practices. It's not always that easy.


Quite often culture and Dharma are assumed to be the same thing. This is something you easily discern after travelling around and seeing how different places do Buddhism.

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PostPosted: Fri May 03, 2013 4:39 pm 
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I would also like to point out that some cultures can be more conductive towards Buddhist spiritual cultivation, and some less conductive, and which one is which is an open question. I, for example, have a distinct impression that our modern Western society is in many ways one of the most unhelpful environments in this regard. So, while of course Buddhism should accept the local cultural norms to some degree, like it always did, we should be careful not to overdo it by smuggling in elements of our culture that might be familiar and dear to us, but actually harmful for practice and for tradition.


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PostPosted: Fri May 03, 2013 4:46 pm 
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Yes, sometimes I think people can be blinded by culture and even by aversion to culture. For instance, I've been criticised before for drinking green tea as some consider this "cultural baggage". Personally I think it's damn nice tea :tongue:

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PostPosted: Fri May 03, 2013 4:52 pm 
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Seishin wrote:
Yes, sometimes I think people can be blinded by culture and even by aversion to culture. For instance, I've been criticised before for drinking green tea as some consider this "cultural baggage". Personally I think it's damn nice tea :tongue:

Tea must be really serious business in Britain :rolling:
I have found that it is impossible to completely separate teaching itself from culture. For example, if you hate everything Indian (on an aesthetic level), then Buddhism probably won't work for you, even if you admire the doctrine in theory. Too many links and references. So, I think it is very important to find a form of Buddhism where you love the cultural side as well!


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PostPosted: Fri May 03, 2013 4:54 pm 
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mirage wrote:
Tea must be really serious business in Britain :rolling:


Imagine peoples shock when you tell them that tea didn't originate in Britain!! :rolling:

:focus:

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PostPosted: Fri May 03, 2013 6:03 pm 
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Yeah and they took along the chinaware as well for tea and scones...

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PostPosted: Sat May 04, 2013 12:28 am 
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The whole "do your own thing" stuff is problematic for a variety of reasons. On one hand, every Buddhist practitioner is on their own, as it's really up to you to study and train. On the other hand, we take refuge in all of Three Jewels not just one or two. We don't just take vows, they are given to us. We don't just pick a name because we like the way it sounds, they are bestowed upon us. If we don't have respect for those that have graciously passed these onto us, it is highly unlikely that they will bear the fruit that was intended.

As for the difficulties of dealing with a tradition that exists outside of the culture we were born into, this is nothing new. The teachings didn't just spread on the wind, but through the hard work and perseverance of those that understood the value of the Dharma, not only for themselves but for others. And I don't see why undertaking some hardship for the sake of the Dharma is something that people who have taken bodhisattva vows should be complaining about. Besides, compared to what Chinese, Tibetans, Japanese and so forth had to go through to bring Dharma to those countries, we Westerners have it pretty easy.

Are these traditions replete with cultural baggage? Sure, but that doesn't mean we should throw out the proverbial baby with the bath water. Nor does the difficulty in gaining status in these traditions as foreigners really something we, as practitioners, should be concerned with. This sounds more like the 8 wordly dharmas than anything else. It's not like Westerners are some oppressed minority in the world of Asian Buddhism. Tenzin Palmo didn't get to where she is by fighting against an anti-foreigner patriarchical system. She got there by spending decades in strict retreat under the guidance of an extremely capable teacher. And yes these people are rare, but such practitioners are rare. I'm sure Khedrup can testify to the difficulty and level of sacrifice it takes to become even a translator for a Geshe, let alone a Geshe oneself or the preceptor for an entire monastic community. (Btw, I do know a German Soto priest that runs a Temple in Japan). So the lack of foreigners in these types of roles isn't any more of an indication of bias than the scarcity of Japanese baseball players playing in Major League Baseball in America. Talent and diligence rise to the top, no matter what color you are or what your mother tongue.

Anyway, I'm sure many will disagree with me, but I just don't think there's a problem with inter-cultural influence and exchange. To me understanding culture is just as important as learning the languages that scriptures were written down in, if you want to help others and comprehend their meaning, respectively. For bodhisattvas, sentient beings are just as important as Buddhas, in that they are equally kind in helping them achieve the final goal of Buddhahood.


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PostPosted: Sat May 04, 2013 3:25 am 
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yegyal wrote:
On the other hand, we take refuge in all of Three Jewels not just one or two.


Yes and no. The real refuge is the Dharma. See the following:

Quote:
    Therefore, Ananda, be islands unto yourselves, refuges unto yourselves, seeking no external refuge; with the Dhamma as your island, the Dhamma as your refuge, seeking no other refuge. (DN 16)


Here we have the Buddha saying that the Dharma is your refuge and you need not seek anything else as a refuge.

Quote:
    “Is there, Master Ananda, any single bhikkhu who was appointed by Master Gotama thus: ‘He will be your refuge when I am gone,’ and whom you now have recourse to?”

    “There is no single bhikkhu, brahmin, who was appointed by the Blessed One who knows and sees, accomplished and fully enlightened, thus: ‘He will be your refuge when I am gone,’ and whom we now have recourse to.”

    “But is there, Master Ananda, any single bhikkhu who has been chosen by the Sangha and appointed by a number of elder bhikkhus thus: ‘He will be our refuge after the Blessed One has gone,’ and whom you now have recourse to?”

    “There is no single bhikkhu, brahmin, who has been chosen by the Sangha and appointed by a number of elder bhikkhus thus: ‘He will be our refuge after the Blessed One has gone,’ and whom we now have recourse to.”

    “But if you have no refuge, Master Ananda, what is the cause for your concord?”

    “We are not without a refuge, brahmin. We have a refuge; we have the Dhamma as our refuge.”
    (MN 108)


Again, the same message.

In respect to the Buddha and Sangha, the latter refers to the ārya or noble sangha, so arhats, bodhisattvas and the like, i.e., those who have liberated themselves from saṃsāra. You don't take refuge in ordinary beings.



Quote:
We don't just take vows, they are given to us.


That's an interesting point. In the literature we see examples of people basically saying to the Buddha that they take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, and then swear to uphold the vows. There is no sense of anything being given or conveyed. The Buddha acts as a witness.

The convention now is to receive precepts in a formalized manner, but it seems early on this wasn't the case, even with bhikṣu status where it was possible to make personal vows and become a bhikṣu, or just be welcomed by the Buddha into the sangha with no requisite karma proceedings. This of course changed, but still these things are not set in stone.


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We don't just pick a name because we like the way it sounds, they are bestowed upon us.


You can change your Dharma name if you want. There's plenty of people, quite eminent figures too, who have done so. You can actually decide on a name as well with your refuge teacher. You don't even need a Dharma name. It is just a convention and ultimately not so important.


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Nor does the difficulty in gaining status in these traditions as foreigners really something we, as practitioners, should be concerned with.


Actually it is a big problem.

Firstly, without enough social capital you will be limited in the projects you can undertake for the benefit of other beings. That might sound like opportunism, but it isn't. If nobody takes you seriously even after being in a tradition for years and years, how are you going to get the resources to do significant projects or move the organization in a positive direction? Without a voice you don't have the means to do much other than politely submit yourself to the powers that be and hope they take an interest in whatever projects you have in mind.

The other issue is that most humans will leave an organization that they don't feel a part of. You can condemn them for this as being worldly and stuck in the eight worldly dharmas, but we should show some understanding and compassion. If you want people to stick around in a community you need to provide them with some kind of fulfilling purpose and voice.

A lot of westerners inevitably fail as monks/nuns because they have no purpose or function. Even if they have sufficient material resources and no visa issues in a foreign country, they might feel after a long period of time unsatisfied staying in an organization that more or less doesn't seem to care one way or another about them. If you're a natural loner and do your own thing, then it isn't an issue because you might even be happy that you get left alone, but that won't work for everyone. We need to be understanding of others.

This was something a senior western monk told me about before I ordained. He told me that I'll have to find my own way because I probably won't get much in the way of direction or support from others.

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Talent and diligence rise to the top, no matter what color you are or what your mother tongue.


Yeah, but maybe you need to work twice as hard to get half as far as the locals.

Actually that's true because to really get into these traditions requires language training, sacrifice and persistence.

Still, the fact that you have to sacrifice so much just to get your foot in the door should say something about how viable such a tradition would be when reproduced in a foreign country.

Really, though, at the end of the day we will have to create our own traditions that are raised in a new cultural environment and organically suited to the time and place. It is happening. Look at Ajahn Brahm and his organization.

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PostPosted: Sat May 04, 2013 10:37 am 
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How is the weight of culture in solid history? Where is history? Only blah blah-questions. Sorry.
In order to reveal what doesn't change, 'can there be' change. What am I saying now...I mean, no need to reject or accept or hold on "my/other east-west cultures-phenomema".

No any need to give weight to my bubble-chatter here right now.
Ponlop Rinpoche: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fXZ-z13CoYA

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PostPosted: Sat May 04, 2013 3:29 pm 
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I have also heard, and tend to agree with the view, that the intense etiquette in Taiwanese traditions is a form of mindfulness training. Personally, I prefer to think that the masters who have practiced for decades and enforce these rules are doing so for dharmic purposes and not just to feel aristocratic and better than lay people. Also, after you get in the repetitive habit of engaging in the etiquette, you can stop thinking about it, and are able to go about an entire day being wholly mindful of your actions and not worrying about being engaged in a discussion or getting distracted by frivolities. Just imagine if you keep up that etiquette for a few decades, every day. You will be able to focus on your mind. This helps because when you're not doing etiquette you are more likely than not to be engaged in some kind of menial task or dealing with worldly affairs where the mind is more likely to get distracted, so you find that, over time, it's those moments of etiquette that are islands in the sea of distractions and frivolities, where you can finally let go of thoughts and separate them from your deeds.


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PostPosted: Sat May 04, 2013 4:22 pm 
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Ben Yuan wrote:
I have also heard, and tend to agree with the view, that the intense etiquette in Taiwanese traditions is a form of mindfulness training.


But if it becomes second nature, then you can eat your soup "like a dragon clutching a pearl" while off in some daydream. Just as well you can be a slob when eating and likewise daydream.

Studying and cultivating proper etiquette and refined behaviour is a waste of time if you consider the reality of death.

A monk in a Chinese monastery will have to go back to their quarters to change robes. Now, multiply that ten or fifteen minutes times the number of days during their adulthood.

10 minutes X 365 = 3650 minutes. That is about 60 hours. In 60 years that would come to 3600 hours or 150 days spent going to and from the quarters getting changed just to have dinner. 150 days could have been spent doing something conducive to liberation like discussing Dharma, meditating or reading. 150 days would make a good retreat. But instead he spent all that time (maybe a lot more) going to the quarters to get changed just because of an arbitrary rule and/or convention.



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Personally, I prefer to think that the masters who have practiced for decades and enforce these rules are doing so for dharmic purposes and not just to feel aristocratic and better than lay people.


Read their writings and sometimes by their own admission they want to distance themselves from common folk. In modern writings you can even see statements where they say being a layperson is inferior to being a monk. The emulation of aristocratic forms of culture from the table manners to poetry is perhaps only because it would generate social and cultural capitals which could be exchanged for economic capital one way or another.

However, this really goes back to the age old Chinese way of thinking where strict well-defined hierarchy produces an orderly and safe society. They just utilize such ideas for their own communities and think harmony is established through such means. Outwardly this might be so, but probably not inwardly.

That's how it worked in history as well. People would bow to the emperor as their nominal overlord but plot against him.



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This helps because when you're not doing etiquette you are more likely than not to be engaged in some kind of menial task or dealing with worldly affairs where the mind is more likely to get distracted, so you find that, over time, it's those moments of etiquette that are islands in the sea of distractions and frivolities, where you can finally let go of thoughts and separate them from your deeds.


I wouldn't approach things like this.

I think slob behaviour and the absence of rules is more of a relief to the mind. If you're free to wear your stained robes and lick your plate in front of everyone (and nobody cares), then that's a few less worldly things to care about. Hygiene of course is important, but beyond that what does it matter? Beyond the basics (like don't sneeze all over the food), you're just perpetuating rather than remedying the eight worldly dharmas by having silly written and unwritten rules.

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PostPosted: Sat May 04, 2013 4:38 pm 
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BuddhaSoup wrote:
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.

I am very happy that you went off topic this time! It's a great article.

It is very interesting and well-written, Ven. Indrajala! :)


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PostPosted: Mon May 06, 2013 7:32 am 
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... he spent all that time (maybe a lot more) going to the quarters to get changed just because of an arbitrary rule and/or convention.

Yes great, but I really don't see how one cannot practice in that time. Can't one practice in a way conducive to liberation constantly? Why do activities have to be divided up and categorised as conducive and non-conducive. Isn't that just extra dualism and baggage to worry about? I feel like excess stress and agitation is being created to no real end by doing that, should one not "just practice?"
Quote:
Read their writings and sometimes by their own admission they want to distance themselves from common folk. ... That's how it worked in history as well. People would bow to the emperor as their nominal overlord but plot against him.

Likewise, I just feel like excessive and unnecessary cynicism is present when discussing the question of motivation. Isn't your own mind what matters? Why do you care what other people's motivations are? Shouldn't you just focus on what you're thinking of others? Isn't there a problem if in tiny things like this we are picking out faults and flaws in our teachers? Perhaps indeed there is a place to discuss actual things said in literature, but in order to do that, I would prefer if we could actually address them directly. Quotes are required before general and possibly harmful accusations are propounded at no otherwise good and merit producing end.
Quote:
I think slob behaviour and the absence of rules is more of a relief to the mind.

Maybe it is, but why are our minds getting agitated too much in the first place? Perhaps we have to use the opportunity to examine our minds, perhaps it gives us greater opportunity to do this. If you are really practicing mindfulness, you are tranquilising your body and mind anyway, so there's no problem - and the more difficult, the better. One doesn't get strong from lifting feathers.

I'm not saying one way is right and the other is wrong. I'm saying that every way is an opportunity in a different sense, and a path can be found in a myriad of directions which we otherwise would not have noticed. We should be careful not to disparage paths simply because they are different from those we have greater affinities with, because those are the paths of others, and as paths, they also work. Efficiency for one person is laxity and boredom for another; rules for one person are just a cause of excess anxiety for another.

If we are really watching our minds, do the dualisms of East, West, good path, bad path, efficient, inefficient, lazy, disciplined, really cause us to cross the stream? No. It's up to you, the externalities do not make you enlightened, your own effort does, you're an island and refuge unto yourself, no matter where you are - India or Taiwan.


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PostPosted: Mon May 06, 2013 8:41 am 
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Why do activities have to be divided up and categorised as conducive and non-conducive.


This is a good point, but I think the stiff form that the Chinese traditions insist on robs many Westerners of the chance to experience these traditions more deeply.

I think Chinese Buddhism is beautiful and has lots to offer- I spent 5 months living at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas and 7 months in Taiwan.

However, the form and how it is enforced is not palatable to most Westerners- it scares them away or makes them feel uncomfortable for the most part. It is so rigid that most Westerners dismiss Chinese Buddhism immediately, and never see the beauty that lies beneath the surface of the tradition.

Also, what is perceived as chuang yen and"awesome comportment'' in Chinese culture might be seen as rigid or unwelcoming in the West. If the monastics are to bring the gifts of Chinese Buddhism to foreign lands they simply need to have this conversation, otherwise, no matter how much money is spent on what they call localization, it will never be successful.

Of course some of these factors are present in Tibetan Buddhism too, with the dharma police having an aneurism if someone prostrates incorrectly, but culturally the system at least on the surface seems more open, which is why I think more Westerners are attracted.

Of course, one monk said to me ''why should we pander to Westerners, if you come that's fine, if not we don't mind''. True. But what about the younger generations of Chinese kids? Once they are too old for the youth groups, will they be attracted to the stern forms? Indeed, if the forms and style of communication were more open I might have been able to have some success in the Chinese tradition. But as the Tibetan system seemed more open and forgiving, I decided to give learning the language another try and ended up a translator in a Tibetan centre. In a way, I guess the rigidity of the form helped me realize that my true home was with Vajrayana tradition and even if there was little support or structure for monks it was where I felt most at home.

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PostPosted: Mon May 06, 2013 1:09 pm 
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Ben Yuan wrote:
Why do activities have to be divided up and categorised as conducive and non-conducive.


Because we are going to die and in the end non-conducive activities shouldn't be included in the rulebook.

Contemplate death and you start to identify what's really important in life.


Quote:
Why do you care what other people's motivations are? Shouldn't you just focus on what you're thinking of others?


We're discussing institutional rules here, not being judgemental.

This means that regardless what I think of people, if I'm in that community I need to follow the rules. I don't have to sign up of course, but therein lay the problem. If excessive insistence on superficial activities like changing robes for dinner discourages more people than it encourages (and I believe this is the case in our present day, even in Asia), then the rule is probably a waste of time. I also don't want to see such a system reproduced in foreign countries where I know for sure it won't work (the lack of success of Chinese Buddhism outside of the Chinese diaspora does say something).

Some rules make sense. Like don't beat your little disciples otherwise they'll run away and maybe resent the sangha.

Actually a monk from up north told me that the monasteries now have implemented rules against beating the novices too much because they had this problem of them running away. Now they don't run away so much anymore.

See, that makes sense. Having rules that just make life inconvenient for no good reason is not sensible.


Quote:
Isn't there a problem if in tiny things like this we are picking out faults and flaws in our teachers?


I'm not picking out faults and flaws in my teachers. You might see the etiquette proponents of the past and present as teachers, but I don't have any allegiance to such figures.


Quote:
Maybe it is, but why are our minds getting agitated too much in the first place?


In monasteries sometimes if someone complains about others being too loud, clearly the one complaining has to work on their patience and has a problem to deal with.

It is a convenient way to silence undesirable criticism.



Quote:
If we are really watching our minds, do the dualisms of East, West, good path, bad path, efficient, inefficient, lazy, disciplined, really cause us to cross the stream? No. It's up to you, the externalities do not make you enlightened, your own effort does, you're an island and refuge unto yourself, no matter where you are - India or Taiwan.


Okay, but we're talking about institutions and their systems. What works and what doesn't. As someone who wants to see Buddhism survive difficult times and maybe appeal more to younger generations which have less and less interest, I really think we should discuss the matter of rules and regulations as well as activities that are more cultural and less about liberation.

You can't redirect the discussion into some nebulous sentiments about non-duality and how we should disengage our critical thought.

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PostPosted: Mon May 06, 2013 1:24 pm 
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JKhedrup wrote:
If the monastics are to bring the gifts of Chinese Buddhism to foreign lands they simply need to have this conversation, otherwise, no matter how much money is spent on what they call localization, it will never be successful.


When I've discussed such matters with monastics in Taiwan they really have problems conceiving of alternative approaches.

One monk told me that for an international seminary program the first matter was to bring the candidates over to learn Chinese for four years. No mention of Dharma. Just learn Chinese. That really entails getting them well educated in Chinese high society. How to walk, talk and use your chopsticks.

Another one said they thought a proper candidate would want to learn Chinese and have an interest in Chinese culture.

Okay, so, how many people are going to sign up to live in Taiwan for half a dozen years just to learn Chinese from scratch and become a full-fledged monk in an entirely foreign atmosphere which, while supportive, will have little conception of what foreigners will have to go through mentally and physically? What they don't realize is that on top of that they'll be unable to issue criticism and as mature adults will probably feel like they're treated as children having every waking moment decided for them. If they do complain, then the language barrier will maybe immediately prevent them from really conveying their thoughts, but it will also make them look spiritually undeveloped and clearly in need of more training.

Chinese Buddhist organizations attract few foreigners and I hear of a lot of them leaving sooner or later. It isn't just westerners, either. I've met people who broke down and had difficulties finding the funds to escape. They clearly suffered a lot and couldn't even run away because of a lack of money. They were like prisoners.

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PostPosted: Mon May 06, 2013 1:56 pm 
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Another one said they thought a proper candidate would want to learn Chinese and have an interest in Chinese culture.

This is so nostalgic... have you ever been to 'Dharma talks' where if it's an hour, 45 mins is spent on Confucius or Laozi?
And for their overseas missions, they want you to be another Taiwanese clone and I recall how I had to remind a few fellas in my national language (since they refuse to speak any other Chinese dialect nor the national language despite them not being deficient in those) that their patriotic fetish for everything Taiwanese is best kept in Taipei than conjecturing it in my multicultural country...

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PostPosted: Mon May 06, 2013 3:33 pm 
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plwk, I think the idea many have is that Chinese Buddhism = Chinese language (primarily Mandarin), and accommodating other cultures would be to take away from the notion of a "Chinese" Buddhism.

The nationalism inherent in Taiwanese Buddhism is clearly seen even in the academic world. For instance, CBETA (the digital canon) doesn't include the Chinese texts written by Japanese authors. That means a number of volumes from the Taisho are omitted. Despite being written in Classical Chinese and many of them being very useful commentaries on other Chinese texts, they are not included because they are "Japanese" (nevermind that the authors would have seen themselves as heirs to a continental tradition and not specifically Japanese, especially in the early centuries).

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PostPosted: Mon May 06, 2013 8:26 pm 
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You can't redirect the discussion into some nebulous sentiments about non-duality and how we should disengage our critical thought.

We just see things in different ways. I won't try to convince you, but in the end you must admit that Buddhism fundamentally is the abandonment of views - critical or not.

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sarvadṛṣṭiprahāṇāya yaḥ saddharmamadeśayat|
anukampāmupādāya taṁ namasyāmi gautamam|

I offer obeisance to that Gautama, who, having employed sympathy,
Was caused to bring forth the Good Law for the purpose of the abandonment of all views.

Madhyamakaśāstra 27.30 - Nagarjuna


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PostPosted: Mon May 06, 2013 10:10 pm 
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Indrajala wrote:
One monk told me that for an international seminary program the first matter was to bring the candidates over to learn Chinese for four years. No mention of Dharma. Just learn Chinese. That really entails getting them well educated in Chinese high society. How to walk, talk and use your chopsticks.

For some people, even this could be an amazing experience!

Indrajala wrote:
Another one said they thought a proper candidate would want to learn Chinese and have an interest in Chinese culture.

Is that so bad? I mean if you're planning to live in China, shouldn't you be interested in Chinese language and culture??

Indrajala wrote:
Okay, so, how many people are going to sign up to live in Taiwan for half a dozen years just to learn Chinese from scratch and become a full-fledged monk in an entirely foreign atmosphere which, while supportive, will have little conception of what foreigners will have to go through mentally and physically?

You raise legitimate issues, but some people might not be so put off by the fact that they can't be "top dog" at the monastery. Some might be grateful just to have the opportunity to study and practice the dharma full-time with Chinese monks!

Indrajala wrote:
Chinese Buddhist organizations attract few foreigners and I hear of a lot of them leaving sooner or later. It isn't just westerners, either. I've met people who broke down and had difficulties finding the funds to escape. They clearly suffered a lot and couldn't even run away because of a lack of money. They were like prisoners.

That sounds pretty terrible, but I don't know the details. Had these westerners who quit travelled much before? Culture shock can be rough for the 1st couple years anywhere, and especially in such an intense religious environment.


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