Buddhist Parochialism in the West

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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby anjali » Wed Sep 25, 2013 3:31 pm

Indrajala wrote:
JKhedrup wrote:There is a centre in Europe being established for a lama who is already elderly with no resident teacher- however a building is being purchased to hold a maybe two 3-4 day events a year.


It is probably because they feel it is quite meritorious, and the act will pay far more dividends in the afterlife and/or on their path to buddhahood.

Building active and vibrant communities for ordinary folk doesn't sound like a good investment in the merit market.

I'm not totally convinced of the whole quid pro quo merit-making model--doing good expecting to receive good in return. Our Hindu friends have the notion of nishkama karma: self-less or desireless action performed without any expectation of fruits or results. On occasions rarer than I care to admit, I've had the experience of spontaneous generosity that arose from the heart without any thought of expectation or obligation. That's a very different experience than being reminded of the all the merit I will get from giving to a cause. One experience opens the heart, the other has a subtle grasping/greediness associated with it. If teachers are getting students to spend all this money on infrastructure with the promise of merit-making, in my opinion, those actions are not as meritorious as folks might think.
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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby Indrajala » Wed Sep 25, 2013 3:44 pm

Malcolm wrote:As I said, it is McDonald's vs. Burger King thinking. They are all selling burgers and fries, but they all want you to think their burgers and fries are the best.


Ideally people will see through the marketing strategies and do their own thing, however I don't see that forthcoming with most Buddhists given how they tend to defer to authority regardless if it is really in their interests to do so. That goes for any kind of Buddhism.

Also, if the top brass are in Asia and don't really care about their western devotees so much, it might be obvious that people should become autonomous.


I've met a number of people in Nepal and India who work to build monasteries and schools for the exclusive use of Himalayan peoples. They do fundraising, teach English and spend a lot of their time working to develop these projects to "provide opportunities to these youth", but never mention the fact these facilities exclude foreigners, i.e., there's a racist policy in effect. Nevertheless, they seem to feel quite good about what they're doing. I asked them why they don't work to provide training opportunities for their fellow countrymen/women, and they don't really answer.

So, as far as the merit market goes, investments are seen as most lucrative in the Himalayas.

Then there's how foreign funds build those massive monasteries, and then when foreigners want to stay they have to pay special increased prices as foreigners.

Maybe there is merit to building such institutions, but at the end of the day why bother with places that clearly exclude you and your kind...
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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby Karma Dorje » Wed Sep 25, 2013 3:46 pm

anjali wrote:I'm not totally convinced of the whole quid pro quo merit-making model--doing good expecting to receive good in return. Our Hindu friends have the notion of nishkama karma: self-less or desireless action performed without any expectation of fruits or results. On occasions rarer than I care to admit, I've had the experience of spontaneous generosity that arose from the heart without any thought of expectation or obligation. That's a very different experience than being reminded of the all the merit I will get from giving to a cause. One experience opens the heart, the other has a subtle grasping/greediness associated with it. If teachers are getting students to spend all this money on infrastructure with the promise of merit-making, in my opinion, those actions are not as meritorious as folks might think.


It depends on the motivation for generating the merit. If it is just for selfish ends, i.e. better rebirths then what you say applies. However, the Mahayana view is generally that the merit is gathered for the sake of benefitting others and is encompassed by the threefold purity. There is no sense that this is done to get something for selfish ends, nor that there is in fact anyone to benefit.
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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby Indrajala » Wed Sep 25, 2013 3:53 pm

anjali wrote: If teachers are getting students to spend all this money on infrastructure with the promise of merit-making, in my opinion, those actions are not as meritorious as folks might think.


They don't even need to say it themselves.

If a purportedly holy figure needs or wants something, there is naturally the perception that helping out is going to generate a lot of merit given who he is (it is seldom female of course). Giving to an arhat is always more meritorious than giving to a stream-enterer apparently.
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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby anjali » Wed Sep 25, 2013 5:29 pm

Karma Dorje wrote:
anjali wrote:I'm not totally convinced of the whole quid pro quo merit-making model--doing good expecting to receive good in return. Our Hindu friends have the notion of nishkama karma: self-less or desireless action performed without any expectation of fruits or results. On occasions rarer than I care to admit, I've had the experience of spontaneous generosity that arose from the heart without any thought of expectation or obligation. That's a very different experience than being reminded of the all the merit I will get from giving to a cause. One experience opens the heart, the other has a subtle grasping/greediness associated with it. If teachers are getting students to spend all this money on infrastructure with the promise of merit-making, in my opinion, those actions are not as meritorious as folks might think.


It depends on the motivation for generating the merit. If it is just for selfish ends, i.e. better rebirths then what you say applies. However, the Mahayana view is generally that the merit is gathered for the sake of benefitting others and is encompassed by the threefold purity. There is no sense that this is done to get something for selfish ends, nor that there is in fact anyone to benefit.


That certainly is the teaching, aspiration and practice. There are practices in each tradition specifically for the purpose of accumulating merit to remove obstacles on one's path. Also, in the lama tradition, disciples wish to receive blessings through meritorious acts to the lama--such as material generosity to the lama and his work. None of this necessarily leads to a quid pro quo mentality (perhaps unconscious), but it can if not nipped in the bud. The real problem comes when teachers use the notion of accumulation of merit (regardless of whether it is for the benefit of one's self or others) to manipulate students into giving material support for unnecessary infrastructure as mentioned in other posts in this thread.
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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby Jikan » Wed Sep 25, 2013 8:16 pm

Karma Dorje wrote:
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/


I don't speak business-ese and I'd like to give the good people at Tara Mandala the benefit of the doubt. Can anyone clarify what is meant by "competitiveness" in this context? Does it mean that the center is interested in ensuring that their rates & fees &c are priced at about the same level as other comparable centers? Or...?

:shrug:
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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby Malcolm » Wed Sep 25, 2013 8:21 pm

Jikan wrote:I don't speak business-ese and I'd like to give the good people at Tara Mandala the benefit of the doubt. Can anyone clarify what is meant by "competitiveness" in this context? Does it mean that the center is interested in ensuring that their rates & fees &c are priced at about the same level as other comparable centers? Or...?

:shrug:



I think so.
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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby Karma Dorje » Wed Sep 25, 2013 8:23 pm

Jikan wrote:I don't speak business-ese and I'd like to give the good people at Tara Mandala the benefit of the doubt. Can anyone clarify what is meant by "competitiveness" in this context? Does it mean that the center is interested in ensuring that their rates & fees &c are priced at about the same level as other comparable centers? Or...?


It means priced favourably in comparison to other businesses offering a similar product/service. That means that you either must provide greater value or lower price.
It is a "red ocean" term and really does mean compete in the same sense as it is meant elsewhere. It assumes that there is a zero sum game for "customers" and that there will be winners and losers.
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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby conebeckham » Wed Sep 25, 2013 9:15 pm

I want to be clear about the context of my prior comments, so here are some statements...

First, I think "institutions" have a place, and there is certainly a need for infrastructure, and for the ability to have support systems for teachers--and, for that matter, serious students. I also understand the points made earlier on, by Pemachopel I believe, regarding transmission and tradition. With regard to Rimay, I strongly believe that each tradition should be maintained in it's own context-i.e., transmitting (bits of) Lam Dre should not be combined with transmitting (bits of) Naro Cho Druk, etc. This is not to say that one teacher cannot hold, and transmit, both, but there are good reasons for "not Mixing"--Rimay does not mean "mixing," but "respecting." Part of "respecting," to my mind, is acknowledging the unique and self-sufficient natures of each individual "chariot" of practice. Of course, over time, much "rubbing together" or "friction" has led to a certain amount of cross-traditional commentary, notably with Dzogchen/Mahamudra, but also with other systems of yoga, etc. So, I think it reasonable to have free-standing institutional appartus for these various lineages, and associations with institutional lineages.....Identifying oneself as, say, a Karma Kagyu Center, specializing in Mahamudra and the Six Yogas traditions, is not necessarily parochial.

The problems arise when such institutions become the "vocation" of people who are more interested in maintaining or increasing "market share," increasing wealth and power, whether personal or institutional, at the expense of the ideals of free inquiry, cooperation, and mutual respect. It's a dangerous job, in general, seeking a life in "Dharma" alone--where one's sole support comes from donations and fees for "spiritual activities," IMO. Looking at many of the Mahasiddhas of India, in fact, they worked at various sorts of labor--some of it quite menial. Grinding sesame seeds for oil, weaving, being professional musicians, even procuring johns for prostitutes!! It seems to me that when the more "base" motivations of fame, fortune, and influence become more important than the well-being of students and society in general, parochialism also increases.

There''s a difference, therefore, between Purity of Practice and Transmission, and Parochialism of institutions.
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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby Karma Dorje » Wed Sep 25, 2013 11:06 pm

conebeckham wrote:The problems arise when such institutions become the "vocation" of people who are more interested in maintaining or increasing "market share," increasing wealth and power, whether personal or institutional, at the expense of the ideals of free inquiry, cooperation, and mutual respect. It's a dangerous job, in general, seeking a life in "Dharma" alone--where one's sole support comes from donations and fees for "spiritual activities," IMO. Looking at many of the Mahasiddhas of India, in fact, they worked at various sorts of labor--some of it quite menial. Grinding sesame seeds for oil, weaving, being professional musicians, even procuring johns for prostitutes!! It seems to me that when the more "base" motivations of fame, fortune, and influence become more important than the well-being of students and society in general, parochialism also increases.


I think the Mahasiddha model is much better. Simple vocations to sustain oneself while practicing. Less investment in centers and more investment in the periphery.
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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby Alfredo » Thu Sep 26, 2013 12:33 am

Okay, I get that you want there to be more cooperation. But who gets to join the group that is cooperating? For example, which of the two rival Panchen Lamas will you recognize, for purposes of allowing their dharma centers to join your group? (Do you expect them both to join, or just plan to admit the first one that applies?) Will Zen people be expected to join the Shugden boycott? And what about centers run by lamas involved in scandals, or whose credentials are a little dodgy?

Ad hoc, bilateral arrangements might be more do-able. It may be that rather than putting like with like, a Tibetan center might find it easier to ally with a totally unrelated Buddhist group (a Zen center, let us say), so they avoid competing with each other, and aren't so closely related that they fight over doctrine or lineage. But then, few non-Tibetan groups (being larger, more united, better organized, and better-funded, with plenty of lay support) would see any benefit in cooperating with the Tibetan groups. In fact, I think it is mainly the Tibetan Buddhist groups that are divided in such a way that inter-lineage cooperation would solve any problems. Sure, there are two rival Korean Buddhist orders (which tend to hate each other), but each of them is large by itself.
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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby pemachophel » Thu Sep 26, 2013 1:17 am

In Boulder, CO, the Ratna Shri Center (Drigung) allows other Dharma groups to rent their shrine-room at a very reasonable rate. The local Tara Mandala group meets there weekly (?) or at least regularly. Other groups also use this space on an ad hoc basis. However, this center is run by Westerners and there is no resident Tibetan Lama. So they are free to act pretty independently.

Tulku Sherdor (of Blazing Wisdom center in upstate NY), an American Lama, runs the Rimay Monlam at Garrison Institute (in Garrison, NY) each year. It is open to any Tibetan Buddhists who wish to participate. The prayers are either non-sectarian or equal space is given to each of the major sects (for instance, the monlams for each sect to flourish and expand). Last May's monlam included Nyingma, Kagyud, Sakya, and Gelug students and Teachers. However, only one Asian Teacher attended, a Mongolian Geshe who had been sent as a representative of his Teacher. Numerous Tibetan Lamas have been invited for the last two years, but none have chosen to come. (Whoops. My mistake. Khandro Kamala, Chatral Rinpoche's Sangyum, came for an afternoon and was a highlight of the event this year.) It's notable to me that this event is organized by a Western Lama and that it has not gained any buy-in by Tibetan Lamas. It could be a great venue for ecumenism within Tibetan Buddhism here in the U.S. This year, Teachers from each of the four sects gave representative teachings from their lineages. It was really good.

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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby Kunzang » Thu Sep 26, 2013 6:26 am

I think "disciple stealing" and the fear of it (especially the fear of it) is a long-standing part of this "parochialism" culture.
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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby Indrajala » Thu Sep 26, 2013 7:38 am

Karma Dorje wrote:I think the Mahasiddha model is much better. Simple vocations to sustain oneself while practicing. Less investment in centers and more investment in the periphery.


That might have been out of necessity rather than choice.

Late period Indian Buddhism was up against the wall in many places. Brahmins were actively hostile towards Buddhism.

Monasticism in Kathmandu faded away it seems largely because it was an easy target for hostile Brahmins, whereas a hereditary householder priesthood, with the many superficial trappings of Brahmanism, was more realistic and sustainable.

I suspect in many places in north India the situation for Buddhists was quite similar. A householder yogi could operate freely in society, whereas monks were limited in their options, especially in increasingly hostile environments.
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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby JKhedrup » Thu Sep 26, 2013 8:17 am

This is an interesting historical observation. It also connects with the thread on monasticism. It seems probable that the disappearance of Buddhist monasticism did not bode well for the future of the Buddhist teachings in India.
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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby Indrajala » Thu Sep 26, 2013 9:10 am

JKhedrup wrote:This is an interesting historical observation. It also connects with the thread on monasticism. It seems probable that the disappearance of Buddhist monasticism did not bode well for the future of the Buddhist teachings in India.


There were lay Buddhist movements in India. Yijing in the early 8th century noted after visiting India some "black robed" types who studied Dharma with monks, but were not proper renunciates (hence they were not to be formally fed as one would a 'real' monk). Xuanzang likewise noted the existence of lay communities in the early half of the seventh century.

The bodhisattvayāna movement was clearly heavily oriented around non-ordained Buddhists, as is reflected in literature like the Yogācārabhūmi Śāstra. We see statements like this which are for lay practitioners:

    “If a bodhisattva resides as a householder and there appears a woman who is clearly unbound to anyone, habituated to sexual indulgence, attracted to the bodhisattva and seeking sexual activities, the bodhisattva having seen this thinks, 'Do not make her mind upset, producing much misfortune. If she pursues her desire, she will obtain freedom. As expedient means [upaya] I will take her in and have her plant the roots for virtue, also having her abandon unwholesome karma. I will engage in impure activities [abrahma-carya] with a compassionate mind.' Even practising such defiled activities like this, there is nothing that is violated [precepts], and much merit will be produced. The renunciate bodhisattva [a monk] in order to protect the noble śrāvaka proscriptions must not destroy [their precepts]. They should not engage in any impure activities.”


http://huayanzang.blogspot.com/2012/11/ ... thics.html

I'm not entirely convinced that monasticism is essential for the survival of Buddhism. Vinaya proponents argue that it is, but then you can have married clergy fulfilling ceremonial roles in a community without any monastics around, yet the teachings are successfully transmitted from generation to generation. Newari Buddhism in Nepal is illustrative of this. In fact, I'd argue a lay priesthood is far more adaptable to changing circumstances than a monastic community is. The latter are obliged to follow archaic rules and customs which can be their undoing, especially when their host community ceases to pay much attention to them (as is increasingly the case in Asia, especially Korea and elsewhere).

The Buddha never founded a monastic order really. In his time the ideal was you never slept under the same tree twice. Landed monasticism came centuries after the Buddha's death. In that sense there's a big difference between monks who are wandering mendicants and monks who live in well-managed communities dependent on a greater host society.

Anyway, I'm not saying I oppose monasticism, but just that I'm not entirely convinced its decline in India was that devastating to Buddhism in India. In the seventh and eighth centuries there was a widespread sentiment amongst Indian Buddhists that the Dharma was in decline in India, but they didn't really seem to respond in an intelligent way. Much to their credit, the early Vajrayāna masters responded to hostility by organizing covert societies and mechanisms for transmitting their teachings which did not need state support, or public recognition for that matter.
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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby dzoki » Thu Sep 26, 2013 10:11 am

While what has been said so far is true, here in central Europe, we have an exceptions, especially when it comes to city centers. In Bratislava, Samadhi center is shared by Karma Kagyu (KTC group), Dzogchen community and two theravadin groups. In Prague Lotus center is likewise shared by several groups - theravada and zen, there used to be Tibetan groups too, but they either moved out (conflicts with theravadins over the use of alcohol in pujas) or they disappeared (members moving abroad etc.). Also in Vienna several groups of all traditions share one center - Fleischmarkt Buddhist center, though each group has their own little gompa/medtitation hall there. Countries such as USA or France are quite rich, so there is no such necessity for the groups to come together and share one center, because they still manage to survive financially. Of course it would be much more efficient to share, but both teachers and students often do not want to do this. In case of students this is usually when they built up the center themselves and are very attached to it and want it to stay exclusively Kagyu or Nyingma or whatever.
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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby Malcolm » Thu Sep 26, 2013 2:29 pm

Indrajala wrote: In fact, I'd argue a lay priesthood is far more adaptable to changing circumstances than a monastic community is.


This is precisely the argument used in Tibetan history for the existence of sngags pas.When monks fled the chaos that ensued after Langdarma was assassinated for proposing to tax the monasteries, Buddhadharma primarily survived due to the interest of aristocratic Clans such as the Khon and so on in preserving Buddhist teachings within their families.

After China's economy stabilized in the late tenth century, and trade between Tibet and China was no longer so disrupted, then the monastic community who had survived the travails of that epoch returned to Central Tibet and reestablished monasteries, encouraged by royal support.

The other factor too is that in Tibet, sngags pas are not really considered "lay" in the sense understood here in the West. They have undergone a kind of ordination, They have vows that are distinct from monastic vows, they also have garb to wear, etc. They are educated, which sets them apart from the average person and so on.
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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby Pema Rigdzin » Thu Sep 26, 2013 3:42 pm

anjali wrote:I'm not totally convinced of the whole quid pro quo merit-making model--doing good expecting to receive good in return. Our Hindu friends have the notion of nishkama karma: self-less or desireless action performed without any expectation of fruits or results. On occasions rarer than I care to admit, I've had the experience of spontaneous generosity that arose from the heart without any thought of expectation or obligation. That's a very different experience than being reminded of the all the merit I will get from giving to a cause. One experience opens the heart, the other has a subtle grasping/greediness associated with it. If teachers are getting students to spend all this money on infrastructure with the promise of merit-making, in my opinion, those actions are not as meritorious as folks might think.


This is only so if such people are not also keeping in mind the key element of Buddhist view: emptiness of the self. The Buddha's teachings are replete with admonishment to contemplate and keep in mind the emptiness of the perpetrator of the deed, the deed itself, and the recipient of the deed, and so on. If people practice simple generosity, that is absolutely wonderful, and all the more so if they practice it without thought of reward, but without the correct view it is only a vehicle to higher samsaric rebirth. In other words it's not the Buddha's dharma. Compassion and wisdom need to be united and practiced together for there to be liberation.
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Re: Buddhist Parochialism in the West

Postby Sherab Dorje » Thu Sep 26, 2013 5:46 pm

Karma Dorje wrote: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.
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