The Survival of American Buddhism

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The Survival of American Buddhism

Postby Chaz » Mon Nov 02, 2009 10:14 pm

I'm listening to a 15 minute podcast on Buddhist Geeks - an interview with Acharya Judith Simmer-Brown on the Survival of American Buddhism. It's well worth a listen.

Ms. Simmer-Brown states that there are four factors that will determine whether or not Buddhism will take hold in North America. Those factors are:

1.The translation of core Buddhist texts into English
2.The development of a monastic lineage w/ American lineage holders
3.The training and appointment of dharma transmission holders
4. Royal patronage, or financial support from within the country

This interview is one in a two-part series. The second half should be released one week from today.

http://personallifemedia.com/podcasts/2 ... l-american

For those of you who are not familiar with her, Judy is on the faculty of Naropa University out here in Boulder and is also an Acharya in the Shambhala tradition. She is VERY good.

Also, if you're a Podcast nut AND a Buddhist, Buddhist Geeks has a great podcast archive of many top Buddhist teachers from many different traditions. It's a great resource.

Disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with Buddhist Geeks although I am a Buddhist AND a Geek (albeit a very OLD Geek) AND I listen to a lot of their p-casts. Hell, I don't even know the guys that run it. I will say that at least two of my teachers - my guru, The Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche :woohoo: and Lama Sarah Harding have appeared in BG podcasts.

I think this is an important topic - one all American Buddhists should carefully consider.
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Re: The Survival of American Buddhism

Postby hungryghost » Wed Nov 04, 2009 1:08 am

We have the first three in the US right now, even if its not in huge numbers. I think we are a long way off from #4. Maybe it will never happen and maybe its not necessary. We have a separation of church and state here, so maybe the best we can do is the tax exempt status for religious organizations. So Buddhist Centers have that as well.
Personally, I would add that the commercialization of Buddhism and the new age practices that are mixed up with Buddhism here often are a huge detriment to Buddhism firmly taking root here. Further, I think we need teachers with genuine insight teaching authentic practice. As a zen practicioner, I see far too many centers disregarding the experience of kensho as unneccessary. Also in the zen tradition here, too much emphasis is placed on the 'no reliance on words and letters' to the point where practicioners know little to nothing about mahayana buddhism at all. 'No reliance on words and letters' was for people who were raised from children learning Buddhism. OK enough hot air outta me... :soapbox:
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Re: The Survival of American Buddhism

Postby Luke » Wed Nov 04, 2009 5:48 pm

I think the main point missing was the need to spread the Dharma to people of different races and social classes in America.

The Hispanic population is growing rapidly in America and many of them are now converting to Islam. Buddhism needs to do more to reach out to people of other racial and ethnic backgrounds in the west, or it will have little chance to spread further in the US.

I have a friend who is a Buddhist scholar and he says that this is the pattern which spreading Buddhism to other countries always takes: first, the upper classes convert to Buddhism, then monastic centers are established, and finally, Buddhism spreads to the rest of society. Perhaps this is true, but I find it depressing and unnecessary to practice "trickle-down Dharma" and to ignore the poor and the disadvantaged for the forseeable future.

Great masters like Padmasambhava and Milarepa gave teachings to some very poor and ordinary people. Modern western lamas should have the courage to do the same.

The name of that website, "Buddhist Geeks," illustrates the problem all too clearly. It implicitly acknowledges that most Buddhist media is produced by white geeks for white geeks. Buddhism can't stay confined only to white geeks. What about Buddhist athletes? Buddhist garbagemen? Buddhist cleaning women? Buddhist Africans? Buddhist Puerto Ricans? We need them all if Buddhism is to ever become part of our society, and we need western Buddhist monks and nuns of various ethnic and social backgrounds to lead the way.
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Re: The Survival of American Buddhism

Postby hungryghost » Wed Nov 04, 2009 5:53 pm

I think that if we have more teachers of true wisdom, and monastic centers become larger and more entrenched, there will be no need to go and 'recruit' athletes, garbagemen, or hispanic people. True Buddhism doesnt need much proselytising. When people suffer bad enough, and conditions are ripe, they will find it. Trying to spread Buddhism in a contrived way to people that arent exposed to it will result in contrived Buddhism. This is what christianity does, and it hasnt done them any good, except to gain in numbers.
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Re: The Survival of American Buddhism

Postby Luke » Wed Nov 04, 2009 6:50 pm

hungryghost wrote:I think that if we have more teachers of true wisdom, and monastic centers become larger and more entrenched, there will be no need to go and 'recruit' athletes, garbagemen, or hispanic people. True Buddhism doesnt need much proselytising. When people suffer bad enough, and conditions are ripe, they will find it. Trying to spread Buddhism in a contrived way to people that arent exposed to it will result in contrived Buddhism. This is what christianity does, and it hasnt done them any good, except to gain in numbers.


I agree that Buddhism shouldn't be contrived, however different types of people live in different areas and they read and watch different sources of media. How will people find it if they've never heard enough about Buddhism to even want to search for it? A student at an elite university might be lucky enough to have great lama give a lecture at his university and he or she might go to the lecture just out of curiosity, which might spark a life-long fascination with Buddism and perhaps even lead to that student travelling to Asia. Most likely, no lama would come and visit a community college or a homeless shelter. And what about poor people who don't have computers let alone internet access? How will they find Buddhism if no Dharma center is near them and if their local library has no books about Buddhism?

For this reason, Buddhists should be careful that they don't always put their Dharma centers in areas with similar demographics, and Buddhists should also be careful that they don't always create media which only appeals to same old "western Buddhist" demographic (you know, 30-40, white, educated, etc.). Any form of media which is created by somebody reflects that person's personality, and like tends to attract like. Sometimes it's hard for an outsider to become part of tightly knit social circles.

All beings experience suffering, but some types of suffering are more of a concern to some demographics than to others. People who barely have enough to eat will have different concerns than those of us who are sitting comfortably at our computers, and therefore, they might benefit more from different aspects of Buddha's teachings.

Great bodhisattvas want to help even beings in the hell realms, and don't always wait for the beings to come to them.

Here's an older thread on a similar topic:
viewtopic.php?f=36&t=311
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Re: The Survival of American Buddhism

Postby justsit » Wed Nov 04, 2009 8:53 pm

You may enjoy this.
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Re: The Survival of American Buddhism

Postby malalu » Wed Nov 04, 2009 9:50 pm

I would tend to echo what hungyghost was pointing to. I think that one must have the causes and conditions necessary to encounter Dharma. Just like one has certain conditions to meet with certain teachings, and so-on.

Since different people are at different stages and of different capacities, there are many teachings for each of these individuals' needs. In this context, the same could be said of people who follow other religions or belief systems. Those that do practice Buddhism have planted seeds in the past and now those conditions are ripe for us to do so now. I don't think this can be said for each and every person.

Having said that, one can always help to spread the Dharma to non Buddhists without necessarily using Buddhist terms, this way seeds may be planted.

I think in terms of the situation in the West, it is important to also keep in mind the importance of having not only teachers with vast knowledge of Dharma, but also having realization through practice. This is key, I think. This is why many people still must rely on teachers from traditional countries.
The past is but a present memory or condition, the future but a present projection, and the present itself vanishes before it can be grasped.- Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche
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Re: The Survival of American Buddhism

Postby hungryghost » Thu Nov 05, 2009 4:26 am

I can speak from my own experience...I was living in a halfway house when I began practice, only a few months from severe alcohol, heroin, and cocaine dependance. I went seeking for something (I know now I was seeking the Dharma), and the Dharma came gunning for me :shrug: I was on welfare and the zen center never asked me about contributions. I undertook a membership pledge when I was self sufficient and had my own income. By the way, all throughout my early recovery, unlikely Bodhisattvas were at every turn to guide me and help me stand up...it was very bizzare.
Anyway, I think we also have to remember it took Buddhism hundreds of years to become firmly rooted in china. We are just infants in the dharma...its only because of the state of modern information technology that we have progressed this far...maybe the accelerated state of human suffering the world is in also...sorry this is rambling and poorly written i'm tired and foggy... :zzz:
Homeless people,at least where I live, have access to the internet at the library. Also, access to dozens of dharma books. So...causes and conditions again...which one will pick up the diamond sutra at random?
That being said, I definately feel the odd man out sometimes when we're all having tea..all professionals, students, and the like...i'm usually the only working class guy in the room.
This is a really great topic..
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Re: The Survival of American Buddhism

Postby Luke » Thu Nov 05, 2009 5:39 pm

justsit wrote:You may enjoy this.


Yes, I enjoyed it to the extreme!! Thank you so much! It fills me with joy to see that His Holiness hasn't only given teachings at Dharma centers and elite universities. The Dalai Lama is leading the way with his wisdom and compassion, like usual. If other western lamas followed his example, the world would be a better place.

And thank you Hungry Ghost for telling your story. I'm glad to see counterexamples of the "Buddhist geek" stereotype. I wish you continued success with your Zen practice.

Some people are rightly concerned about the Dharma teachings about wisdom getting watered down, but I think we should also be concerned about the Dharma teachings about compassion getting watered down. In the west, people who are technically learning Mahayana and Vajrayana often still focus on their own spiritual development and sometimes forget about the vast significance of bodhisattva ideal of working every moment to liberate all sentient beings. Meditation is often more fashionable than ethics or compassion in the west, but these things are just as important.

Finding new ways to benefit others never waters down Mahayana Buddhism because this is its very essence.

May I be a guardian for those with no guardian,
A pathfinder for those who are on the road,
And a boat, a ship, and a bridge
For those who would cross.
--Shantideva
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Re: The Survival of American Buddhism

Postby malalu » Thu Nov 05, 2009 11:02 pm

Hi Luke.

Yes a great point! True practice should never really end, I think. Not when one get's off the cushion, or leaves the Dharma centre. Constantly examining, constantly remembering bodhicitta.

Ah, Shantideva. Always inspiring...

A great old quote I love...

"I guard the entrance to the fortress of my mind with a spear- the antidotes.
At no time am I not doing this. When delusions are on the ready, so am I.
When they relax, so do I." Geshe Baen Gung-gyael
The past is but a present memory or condition, the future but a present projection, and the present itself vanishes before it can be grasped.- Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche
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