India & Buddhism

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India & Buddhism

Postby plwk » Thu May 09, 2013 3:34 pm



Excerpt from "The Story of India" showing the development of Buddhism in India. Hosted by Michael Wood for PBS in 2008.
Many countries created empires of the sword; only India created an empire of the spirit.
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Re: India & Buddhism

Postby plwk » Thu May 09, 2013 4:47 pm



Longer version
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Re: India & Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Fri May 10, 2013 2:53 am

Nowadays in India I think Buddhism is generally perceived as a rich religion catering to people with money. Outside of Tibetan and westerners, it is only really educated Indians who have access to it. A lot of Dharma talks by Tibetans will be translated into English, but never Hindi or the local language, so the locals don't have any access.

Tibetan monasteries sometimes charge people 300 rupees / day just to stay as a visitor, so for the minimum wage worker who makes 125 ~ 300 rupees / day, this would be simply unaffordable. Even for middle-class people it can be a lot of money when you consider that even in Delhi minimum wage is 300 rupees / day.

There are Buddhist temples around India here and there, and in theory the poor could try to get their sons into them to train as monks like the Tibetans do, but this just seldom ever seems to happen. I think I've seen a few Indian kids in robes though.

Basically I don't think Buddhism is really accessible to most of the population. This is different in Nepal where the Tamang and Newar peoples have access (linguistically and materially).
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Re: India & Buddhism

Postby plwk » Fri May 10, 2013 3:27 am

Well Venerable, if it is any consolation, I came across videos on youtube where in certain Indian villages, its people, mainly the lower working class are found doing daily pujas before ancient Buddha and Bodhisattva statues whom they mistook for deva murtis...

Is it too far stretched to say that in ancient days, Buddhism (Mahayana in this case) was popular at least at bhakti level vs academic/formal learning level amongst the common seafarers and merchants, especially in South India? Like how in the Chapter 25 of the Lotus Sutra, Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva offers standard protection and safety for mundane fears like getting lost or tossed about at sea and etc. If I am not mistaken, I recall hearing Prof Lewis Lancaster mentioning that in his 'Seaport Buddhism' talk when he was in my country.

I guess this reminds me of Shinran and his experience with the Japanese lower classes with the immense appeal of Jodo Shinshu which was simple and reachable to all, one may barf at all the bhakti stuff but at the end of the day, I find that if this is what will draw in the numbers as a skilful means, why not when formal learning seems to be beyond their reach for the moment, better than nothing? Formal learning/academic Buddhism? Perhaps, a work in progress to complement bhakti soon when conditions are improved?
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Re: India & Buddhism

Postby PorkChop » Sun May 12, 2013 3:35 am

I'm surprised even after the work of Ambedkar it's looked at as a rich/upper middle class thing.
Especially after stories like:
http://wwrn.org/articles/13431/?&place= ... n=buddhism
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2006/oc ... deepramesh
There's another about thousands of "Untouchables" ordaining that I can't find right now.

I saw the documentary from the OP, it's available on Netflix.
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Re: India & Buddhism

Postby Indrajala » Sun May 12, 2013 4:19 am

Last night I was speaking with some Indian gentlemen who said, despite their interest and education, can't really find anywhere suitable to study Buddhism.

The Tibetan institutions are kind of worlds onto themselves and quite Tibeto-centric. They don't really accommodate Indians in general (just look at how translation is usually into English, but seldom ever Hindi even for big events).

In theory they could go to somewhere like Kathmandu, but then RYI is filled with privileged westerners and again it is very much centred around Tibetan Buddhism. Even if you pay the Nepali price there, it isn't really oriented towards local people.

Theravada groups seem more accommodating, but then they're not so widespread. You can do the ten day vipassana retreats in numerous places around India, but beyond that I don't really hear of any other opportunities.

Buddhist temples are relatively scarce and tend to be funded by foreign patrons, so they have large concentrations of wealth. Tibetans get the money to build massive institutions and extensively decorated shrine halls. The Thai monasteries in places like Kushinagar and elsewhere are funded by the Thai royal family.

Some exceptions to all this are Ladakh and Spiti, but then they're not really Indian. They're part of the Republic of India, but their culture is basically Tibetan. A Ladakhi nun explained to me over lunch the other day that it is still generally poor kids who become monks and nuns. Monks are becoming fewer and fewer, so they're left with the responsibilities of visiting homes to do pujas, whereas nuns have more opportunities as time goes on to study. Nuns are generally not called upon to do pujas in households as far as I understand. They can become amchis though.

All things considered, Buddhism isn't really placed on solid ground at the moment in India. Tibetans might be at the forefront, but then their youth have demonstrated less and less interest in Buddhism as it becomes economically viable to do other things. In Spiti I hear that youth who get educated in places like Delhi come back and resent speaking Tibetan and Buddhism in general.

But then around Asia Buddhism is in decline. Youth are increasingly drifting towards secularism or Christianity, or they just never give such things any thought at all as they get sucked into the homogenized monoculture of consumerism.
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Re: India & Buddhism

Postby JKhedrup » Sun May 12, 2013 6:59 am

The solution would seem to be to train Indian monks and nuns. The recent news was that Barkha Madan, a Bollywood actress, was ordained by Choden Rinpoche and covered in the press as the Bollywood nun. Crass some might argue, but exactly the kind of thing that puts Buddhism on the radar.

Ven. Kabir Saxena is another monk, student of both Lama Zopa Rinpoche and Situ Rinpoche, who is of anglo-indian origin. He ran all of fpmt's activities in Root Institue Bodh Gaya for many years and teaches in Hindi.

The interesting thing is that the one flourishing centre that caters mostly to indians that i know of is Cho Khor Sum Ling in Bangalore, 3 hours from Sera. The monks who teach there are all from sera, and all westerners, rather than tibetan. I have no idea why this is.

This of course is more on the gelug side if things but HH Karmapa for example also has many indians attending his teachings, and hhdl does 1 teaching session per year aimed at Indians and translated into hindi. He always mentions the Nalanda philosophical tradition is an Indian tradition, that the Tibetans inherited.

I would love to see more happen

About the monks, it is unfortunate, and with the nuns' upcoming geshe lharampa exams they will face more competition, probably a goid thing. But at big monasteries like sera, ganden, drepung, namdroling, sherab ling and kyentse shedra, there us still a very good level of study, though i wirry what will happen in 25 years.

More resources spent on reaching out to the indian community is an excellent idea.
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