Dharma or Ethnic Buddhism?

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Dharma or Ethnic Buddhism?

Postby Astus » Mon Jun 24, 2013 11:54 pm

Here is a recent article by Shravasti Dhammika that raises some very interesting questions: Dhamma Or Ethnic Buddhism

He writes there:

"When a western monk in the west asks to be addressed as ahjan or gelong, saydaw, roshi or sensei rather than their English equivalent he is identifying himself, not just as a Buddhist, but with a particular ethnic expression of Buddhism. When they chant in the Tibetan or the Burmese or the Chinese way the same impression can be created. ... Dhamma is universal, it transcends culture and ethnicity. The practice of the Dhamma is not the special preserve of any particular ethnic group. Let us practice the Buddha’s teaching, not Thai Buddhism, not Tibetan Buddhism, not Burmese Buddhism or any other culturally-specific expression of the Dhamma."

What do you think?
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Dharma or Ethnic Buddhism?

Postby smcj » Tue Jun 25, 2013 12:53 am

Let us practice the Buddha’s teaching, not Thai Buddhism, not Tibetan Buddhism, not Burmese Buddhism or any other culturally-specific expression of the Dhamma."

Generally, I agree. However I used to play 'Spanish Guitar' and that didn't stop me from playing Bach on it.
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Re: Dharma or Ethnic Buddhism?

Postby LastLegend » Tue Jun 25, 2013 1:12 am

While its good to talk about change, but we must remember that it is still within the realm of conceptualization.
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Re: Dharma or Ethnic Buddhism?

Postby Hickersonia » Tue Jun 25, 2013 1:42 am

I think that it may not be necessarily unskillful to emulate the ethnic and cultural distinctiveness of those you call your teachers... but I wouldn't say it is critical that one do so in every case either.

Within monastic community, if a particular bhikkhu is ordained in an "ethnic lineage" (for lack of a better term) that has a unique word for monks and nuns, I would certainly consider it appropriate that the word be used even if it is in another language.

Not that I'd get bent out of shape over it...
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Re: Dharma or Ethnic Buddhism?

Postby Huifeng » Tue Jun 25, 2013 3:28 am

So, using English is "universal", and not another "culturally-specific expression of the Dhamma"?

The irony!

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Re: Dharma or Ethnic Buddhism?

Postby maybay » Tue Jun 25, 2013 4:00 am

English shows no lack of precendent in assuming words from other languages: 'Bimbo'. Looks good. Sounds good. We'll take it!

I'm more concerned that a monk should have the conceit to ask to be addressed as anything at all. Say what your ideal is, but to prescribe it? The Buddha prescribed his title, but that was different.
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Re: Dharma or Ethnic Buddhism?

Postby jeeprs » Tue Jun 25, 2013 5:06 am

If form is not different to emptiness, there is no reason why this can't apply to ethnic and cultural forms as well. I think getting too attached to the form is forgetting its essential emptiness, but if you realize the form is empty then it can be quite an effective means to convey the teaching. After all if it had no form whatsoever then nothing could be said.
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Re: Dharma or Ethnic Buddhism?

Postby Astus » Tue Jun 25, 2013 9:50 am

Huifeng wrote:So, using English is "universal", and not another "culturally-specific expression of the Dhamma"?
The irony!


I think he meant using the local language that people can understand. To make the message the important part and not the exotic smells and sounds. Although I think it should be recognised that a foreign look can be attractive, for a while, but it results in the high expectations discussed in the article that eventually result in disillusionment.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Dharma or Ethnic Buddhism?

Postby Adamantine » Tue Jun 25, 2013 10:06 am

Thinley Norbu goes into depth about this in "A Cascading Waterfall of Nectar", I'll try to find a relavent quote..
Contentment is the ultimate wealth;
Detachment is the final happiness. ~Sri Saraha
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Re: Dharma or Ethnic Buddhism?

Postby Simon E. » Tue Jun 25, 2013 10:16 am

Astus wrote:Here is a recent article by Shravasti Dhammika that raises some very interesting questions: Dhamma Or Ethnic Buddhism

He writes there:

"When a western monk in the west asks to be addressed as ahjan or gelong, saydaw, roshi or sensei rather than their English equivalent he is identifying himself, not just as a Buddhist, but with a particular ethnic expression of Buddhism. When they chant in the Tibetan or the Burmese or the Chinese way the same impression can be created. ... Dhamma is universal, it transcends culture and ethnicity. The practice of the Dhamma is not the special preserve of any particular ethnic group. Let us practice the Buddha’s teaching, not Thai Buddhism, not Tibetan Buddhism, not Burmese Buddhism or any other culturally-specific expression of the Dhamma."

What do you think?

What do I think ?
I think that unless western Buddhists take on board the kind of concerns that the writer expresses the Dharma in the west will dwindle to becoming an activity of special interest groups...
Pretending to be Thais or Tibetans or Chinese when we are from Sydney or Manchester or Milwaukee creates more problems than it solves.
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Re: Dharma or Ethnic Buddhism?

Postby lobster » Tue Jun 25, 2013 11:06 am

Pretending to be Thais or Tibetans or Chinese when we are from Sydney or Manchester or Milwaukee creates more problems than it solves.


We also have some eastern teachers trying to be Western. The meeting ground will create the new Western Buddhism, perhaps with regional varieties such as American Buddhism, Commercial Buddhism or whatever emerges . . .

Enlightenment is independent of culture, religion and superficialities such as technique and trivial alignment. When we start resonating with the teaching behind the teaching, so to speak, we are no longer worried about the superficial . . . :woohoo:

:popcorn:
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Re: Dharma or Ethnic Buddhism?

Postby Simon E. » Tue Jun 25, 2013 11:08 am

Not worrying about the superficial would be more convincing without the woo-woo smiley.
Rather defeats the message imo.
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Re: Dharma or Ethnic Buddhism?

Postby jeeprs » Tue Jun 25, 2013 11:22 am

But on the other hand different cultures have particular traits and styles. That is part of culture. If you say anything you have to use words, and words belong to a language. You might also use caligraphy and painting to communicate ideas. As soon as you do that, you have to adopt some kind of style. There is nothing that is not cultural or ethnic is there? Or would you have all this abstract modern art and blank verse? Written in Esperanto?

The problem is attachment to forms, groups, images, for their own sake. Then you become drawn into the whole realm of attachments. Of course I am not writing this from some realm beyond attachments, I am just trying to explore the idea. But surely part of the charm of Buddhism is ethnic and cultural. It is just a matter of not being too attached to it, surely.
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Re: Dharma or Ethnic Buddhism?

Postby David N. Snyder » Tue Jun 25, 2013 6:38 pm

Huifeng wrote:So, using English is "universal", and not another "culturally-specific expression of the Dhamma"?
The irony!
~~ Huifeng


Hi Venerable,

I think you were commenting on this passage:
When a western monk in the west asks to be addressed as ahjan or gelong, saydaw, roshi or sensei rather than their English equivalent he is identifying himself, not just as a Buddhist, but with a particular ethnic expression of Buddhism.


I believe Ven. Dhammika is referring to English speaking Western monks, not that English should become the universal language. A Korean monk could still use the Korean title, the Thai using the Thai title, etc.
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Re: Dharma or Ethnic Buddhism?

Postby smcj » Tue Jun 25, 2013 9:04 pm

Simon E. wrote:Not worrying about the superficial would be more convincing without the woo-woo smiley.

Now that's funny! :twothumbsup:
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Re: Dharma or Ethnic Buddhism?

Postby Huifeng » Wed Jun 26, 2013 1:58 am

Back to the topic, as a "western monk", I don't think I've ever asked anyone to address me in any particular way. Often, however, people ask me "How should I address you?", to which I usually give a range of possibilities, indicating which are more the norm in which circumstance. Eg. Huifeng Fashi or Feng Fashi, Huifeng Shi, Feng Shi, Huifeng Shifu or Feng Shifu, Huifeng Laoshi, Huifeng Jiaoshou, Ven(erable) Huifeng, Rev(erend) Huifeng, Bhante Huifeng, Bhante Pannasikhara, Professor (Huifeng), Doctor (Huifeng), Fu Zhuchi, etc. etc. (And all sorts of weird, fun, crazy and otherwise bizarre titles, to boot! -- my favorite being "Feng Gong" from my Russian colleague, whom I call "Suo Lao" -- we're kind of a Buddhist studies comedy team.) Most people are also smart enough to listen how others use such addresses, too. A number still just call me "Huifeng", too. Often it will happen, in certain circumstances, that someone else will politely point out what is or what is not appropriate. For example, in a monastic context, just referring to a monk by their name alone is generally considered impolite. In the end, though, people call me what they will, and in whatever language they will. I don't really care either way. My business is to make sure that I'm being polite, respectful and friendly to others, not how they treat me. Deal with the former, and the latter will take care of itself.

~~ Huifeng :namaste:
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Re: Dharma or Ethnic Buddhism?

Postby JKhedrup » Wed Jun 26, 2013 6:12 am

I think what is appropriate address also varies in terms of the cultural context. In cultures with strong hierarchies like the Tibetan, Chinese and Thai cultures, I would not fight it if someone puts Kushok, Fa Shih or Tan with my name. However, in the west I prefer to dismiss the title Venerable, as I feel it indicates 'worthy of veneration' which I am not. I ask people to just call me Khedrup, sometimes they might add the suffix la.

I go on a first namebasis also because the Netherlands is a highly egalitarian society and forms like 'Eerdwarde' (Dutch for venerable) would be off-putting to the regular secular Dutch person. Also as a translator I think if I stress my equality with our members they will be more comfortable telling me if something in the translation was not clear, which helps me better do my job.

As far as English forms go I would prefer Brother or Sister rather than venerable, but the very best would just be my name. But again these are all just preferences and I know some might find my approach too casual.
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A wise man keeps them secret within.
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Re: Dharma or Ethnic Buddhism?

Postby mandala » Wed Jun 26, 2013 5:05 pm

Well, I don't know - just sounds like another form of aversion to me! While it sounds like a view against superficial cultural trappings, it can also be seen as superficial to to infer that an english speaker shouldn't take a 'foreign' name or title.

I don't see a problem with culturally based schools... or 84,000 dharma doors... there's a dharma flavour for everyone!
If a western guy feels an affinity with tibetan Buddhism or an african girl has affinity to chinese Buddhism, then who cares. If it feels meaningful to you to chant in sanskrit or german, good for you, it's noone's business.

There are quite a few western sangha that use their given names.. for example Ven Robina Courtin... I really think it all comes down to personal choice.
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Re: Dharma or Ethnic Buddhism?

Postby M.G. » Wed Jun 26, 2013 9:14 pm

I don't think realization is exclusive to partiuclar lineages, or even to Buddhism, but title conveys information far beyond ethnic affilation; lineages have particular philosophies, techniques, ritual and yogic practices, histories, aesthetics, and so forth. I have no problem with teachers eschewing title, but I think there are valid reasons for embracing it.

That said, a teacher who chooses to use title should be intimately familiar with the lineage they claim to represent. I know someone, for instance, who holds formal title in a Christian tradition basically by honorific, but by his own admission, is not especially knowledgable in its history and distinct practices. For that reason, he chooses not to publicly identify by title.
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Re: Dharma or Ethnic Buddhism?

Postby lobster » Mon Jul 01, 2013 8:42 am

Huifeng wrote:My business is to make sure that I'm being polite, respectful and friendly to others, not how they treat me. Deal with the former, and the latter will take care of itself.


:woohoo:
My sort of venerable business man :smile:

:bow:

We all know not to go into certain situations with dharma combat 'guns' blazing. That would be impolite, brash and perhaps ethnically and stereotypically 'American' :guns:

We can learn from more civil ethnicities. We can be true to our own superficial differences. I personally like to offer Kwan Yin popcorn. Being a genuine 'Buddha Babe' she accepts. Now that is Dharma by example . . .

:popcorn:
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