Buddhist Parochialism in the West

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Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby Karma Dorje » Tue Sep 24, 2013 4:46 pm

I have been giving a lot of thought lately to how we as Tibetan Buddhists spend our limited resources in the West. It seems that instead of cooperating with each other to share teaching and retreat facilities, we are repeating the same balkanized organizational structures as in Tibet and the Tibetan diaspora and actually approaching other groups as competition. This to my mind is entirely counterproductive. While there are bigger differences with other forms of Buddhism from other countries, one would think that the schools are close enough to cooperate more closely in the West than they have. Instead we see even lineages within the same school competing.

Please share your thoughts on this.
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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby Malcolm » Tue Sep 24, 2013 4:57 pm

Karma Dorje wrote:I have been giving a lot of thought lately to how we as Tibetan Buddhists spend our limited resources in the West. It seems that instead of cooperating with each other to share teaching and retreat facilities, we are repeating the same balkanized organizational structures as in Tibet and the Tibetan diaspora and actually approaching other groups as competition. This to my mind is entirely counterproductive. While there are bigger differences with other forms of Buddhism from other countries, one would think that the schools are close enough to cooperate more closely in the West than they have. Instead we see even lineages within the same school competing.

Please share your thoughts on this.


Turf war.
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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby conebeckham » Tue Sep 24, 2013 5:32 pm

Well......is it the students, or the teachers, who foster this sort of thing? That is the primary question you should ask yourself.

And when you've reached your conclusions, consider your alternatives.
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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby Greg » Tue Sep 24, 2013 5:35 pm

Karma Dorje wrote:I have been giving a lot of thought lately to how we as Tibetan Buddhists spend our limited resources in the West. It seems that instead of cooperating with each other to share teaching and retreat facilities, we are repeating the same balkanized organizational structures as in Tibet and the Tibetan diaspora and actually approaching other groups as competition. This to my mind is entirely counterproductive. While there are bigger differences with other forms of Buddhism from other countries, one would think that the schools are close enough to cooperate more closely in the West than they have. Instead we see even lineages within the same school competing.

Please share your thoughts on this.


This has occurred to me to. I would argue that it is even worse than that, because even lamas from the exact same lineages don't cooperate and each create their own little insular fiefdoms, duplicating all kinds of infrastructure that could be efficiently shared.
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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby Karma Dorje » Tue Sep 24, 2013 5:46 pm

conebeckham wrote:Well......is it the students, or the teachers, who foster this sort of thing? That is the primary question you should ask yourself.

And when you've reached your conclusions, consider your alternatives.


The teachers, of course. Most students are not really looking to throw as much money as they can into new buildings and lands. They just want to help their teacher and have a place to have teachings and do a retreat.
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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Tue Sep 24, 2013 5:50 pm

Is this more about having an ecumenical attitude, actually creating organizational structures that are ecumenical, or both?
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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby Karma Dorje » Tue Sep 24, 2013 6:10 pm

Johnny Dangerous wrote:Is this more about having an ecumenical attitude, actually creating organizational structures that are ecumenical, or both?


I am not so concerned with ecumenism as being thoughtful about how resources are used. It doesn't make sense to have each group build retreat facilities that are used one tenth of the time when there could be time and cost sharing. Having a single facilitated teaching space and/or retreat space in a region that many different organizations could use makes more sense than everyone carrying mortgages and working more hours in the rat race so that each group has its own fief.

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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby Malcolm » Tue Sep 24, 2013 6:18 pm

conebeckham wrote:Well......is it the students, or the teachers, who foster this sort of thing? That is the primary question you should ask yourself.

And when you've reached your conclusions, consider your alternatives.



In my experience, it is the teachers, mostly.
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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby Jikan » Tue Sep 24, 2013 6:33 pm

What might an alternative look like? Well, it would look like something that involves a certain amount of administration to make sure everyone's group can share the space properly, each group is contributing to upkeep &c adequately, and so on. It can be done, at least in urban contexts. There are shared Buddhist venues in Richmond, VA, Little Rock, AR and elsewhere in the US... I'm sure they exist elsewhere. Example:

http://www.ekojirichmond.org/
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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby Derek » Tue Sep 24, 2013 6:54 pm

You're right. I once went to a meeting of the Buddhist groups in Vancouver, BC, Canada. They were all vaguely curious to learn about what the others were doing. But that was it. No cooperation ever came out of the meeting. Each group has its own programs and traditions and people and activities, and they stay like that.
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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby JKhedrup » Tue Sep 24, 2013 7:14 pm

I agree. In fact, a friend and I were discussing today how this presents all sorts of problems. The funny thing with retreat centres is that for the most part groups do not have enough events planned to fill them year round anyways. It would be far more effective to have a Buddhist Association made up of members from various traditions purchase an attractive facility together that would be shared.

Of course, this would require people co-operating which seems to be difficult. It would also, as mentioned, require open-minded teachers who would be willing to put lineages biases aside in favour of considering the bigger picture of how to make Buddhism work in the West.

We are going to have a gathering here of the Buddhist Union of the Netherlands in November. I am going to just put this issue out there and see how people respond to it- it would be the perfect forum for a discussion. My feeling, though, is that the idea will go down like a lead balloon. Perhaps I am too pessimistic.
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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby pemachophel » Tue Sep 24, 2013 8:11 pm

In Boulder, CO, we have the Boulder Buddhist Peace Cooperative which attempts to foster ecumenism among all Buddhist groups in the county. Most of those group are TB. IMO, this effort has not met with great success. The Western students see the value in such a cooperative approach, but, again IMO, their Teachers, for the most, part do not. I know this for a fact in one sangha with which I'm affiliated. On the plus side, there's a picnic on Buddha's birthday in the spring/early summer that is well attended (by Western students and Teachers), and there's an on-line bulletin board of Buddhist events. Sometimes there're meetings attempting to catalyze cooperative action on this or that, but these are sparsely attended and, again in my limited experience, nothing much comes out of them. I haven't attended one of these meetings in a year or so, so my experience may be dated. In any case, I agree that the parochialism stems from the Tibetans, not the Westerners. As Malcolm says, "turf wars."
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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby conebeckham » Tue Sep 24, 2013 8:31 pm

Malcolm wrote:
conebeckham wrote:Well......is it the students, or the teachers, who foster this sort of thing? That is the primary question you should ask yourself.

And when you've reached your conclusions, consider your alternatives.



In my experience, it is the teachers, mostly.


Ditto. There is a certain "Clubbiness" you find amongst members of the same institutions, but I feel many teacher foster this sort of thing. I will say--there may be some good reasons for this, amongst beginning students--but there comes a point where it's about "Market Share" more than anything else.
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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby Greg » Tue Sep 24, 2013 8:37 pm

It is understandable why they do this. Why go to the hassle of cooperating when you can be the king of your own self-contained world?

Of course, another downside (besides duplicated effort) is - when there are no institutions that are bigger than any one person, then each group has to hope that the successor is charismatic enough to keep the lights on, or else decades of effort dissipates when the founder dies.
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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby Karma Dorje » Tue Sep 24, 2013 8:44 pm

Greg wrote:It is understandable why they do this. Why go to the hassle of cooperating when you can be the king of your own self-contained world?

Of course, another downside (besides duplicated effort) is - when there are no institutions that are bigger than any one person, then each group has to hope that the successor is charismatic enough to keep the lights on, or else decades of effort dissipates when the founder dies.


Succession planning is a HUGE problem and I am sure in most centers where the founder dies, there are huge political battles over the alignment afterwards. That to some extent is unavoidable but would certainly be lessened if groups were less tied to fundraising.

It seems that all of the voices agree that greater cooperation is desirable. Are there any dissenting voices?
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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby smcj » Tue Sep 24, 2013 8:48 pm

This has occurred to me to. I would argue that it is even worse than that, because even lamas from the exact same lineages don't cooperate and each create their own little insular fiefdoms, duplicating all kinds of infrastructure that could be efficiently shared.

They are doing things the way they did them in Tibet. They don't understand 'we need to hang together or we will hang separately'. The Karma Kagyus attitude of, "First thing we need to do is build large institutions" is very unhelpful in particular. Producing enlightened Westerners would spontaneously generate massive support.
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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby heart » Tue Sep 24, 2013 8:53 pm

smcj wrote:
This has occurred to me to. I would argue that it is even worse than that, because even lamas from the exact same lineages don't cooperate and each create their own little insular fiefdoms, duplicating all kinds of infrastructure that could be efficiently shared.

They are doing things the way they did them in Tibet. They don't understand 'we need to hang together or we will hang separately'. The Karma Kagyus attitude of, "First thing we need to do is build large institutions" is very unhelpful in particular. Producing enlightened Westerners would spontaneously generate massive support.


But we are almost all laymen/women and they believe in monasticism in their hearts.

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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby Dharmaswede » Tue Sep 24, 2013 8:54 pm

Just look at the resistance against sharing a shrine in a given Western city with only a small number of practitioners in the Tibetan tradition... that alone dilutes the resources that are the outcome of the devotion of the students.
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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby Karma Dorje » Tue Sep 24, 2013 8:56 pm

conebeckham wrote:Ditto. There is a certain "Clubbiness" you find amongst members of the same institutions, but I feel many teacher foster this sort of thing. I will say--there may be some good reasons for this, amongst beginning students--but there comes a point where it's about "Market Share" more than anything else.


To your point, this is an example of what rankles me. I only single out Tara Mandala as it provides such a crystal clear illustration of how we are moving in the opposite direction of greater cooperation:

> Implements a pricing structure, in conjunction with the Executive Director for the retreat programs adjusting as needed based on affordability principles and market trends.
> Routinely conducts market analysis to ensure competitiveness with other centers. (emphasis added)


http://taramandala.org/retreat-and-prog ... scription/
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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby conebeckham » Tue Sep 24, 2013 9:02 pm

Well, that is interesting, given it is a "Westerner-run" center....the idea of Market Analysis, and business practices in general, is not something you'd find outlined explicitly at most Tibetan-run centers. BUT, in the end, I think it comes down to the same thing....it's a business, and always has been, to a great degree. I hasten to point out that I always distinguish, in "Dharma," between Institutional lineages and instruction lineages....

In Tibet, these instruction lineages were "imported products" from India, and they became not merely marketable, but the basis of several highly competitive corporate structures.
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