Buddhism's class "problem"

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PeterC
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Re: Buddhism's class "problem"

Post by PeterC »

I went back to the original article after reading this thread and I think I disagree with it more now than when I first skimmed it. The silliness starts from the first sentence and continues to the last.
Convert Buddhism has a class problem: it appeals mostly to a narrow demographic of well-off college graduates.
"Convert" Buddhism?
"Problem"? In a non-proselytizing practice, whose teachings traditionally must be requested and which holds that karma determines who encounters it?
So, how does class show up in American Buddhism? What role has it historically played in Buddhism? How can more class consciousness benefit the future of Buddhism?
"American" Buddhism?
"Benefit the future of Buddhism"?
During interviews with Gen X Buddhist teachers, I asked them a series of demographic questions. Each teacher moved through the categories of race, gender, and sexuality with ease. But nearly all hesitated with class.
If you interview people intent on finding a problem, guess what, you will. But if you're going to talk to Americans about class, you will almost always find it a difficult topic on which to have a conversation, because unlike the UK, it was never really the dominant axis of social analysis: things like race and gender were. To misquote John Lennon, you think you're so clever and classless and free.

The article then goes into a long paean on the merits of adapting/simplifying practices so that they "appeal" to "everyday blue-collar Buddhists". It also comments that "...teachers need to embrace the pragmatic benefits of Buddhism. I have heard many Buddhists snigger about people doing mindfulness practice for stress reduction or chanting for job promotions. This patronizing dismissal of real-world needs is a major barrier to working-class participation." I'm going to assume all readers here understand how absurd these comments are. It goes on in the same vein: "Closely related is teaching the dharma in ways that translate into modern life. As one practitioner put it, “Speak directly to people’s everyday experiences and needs in the plain, everyday language that they speak.” ".
Recognizing that class has always mattered in Buddhism and bringing more consciousness to how class preferences and prejudices operate in American Buddhist sanghas can push meditation-based lineages beyond the Upper-Middle Way. It can also increase appreciation for the forms of Buddhism flourishing in the United States that have already made Buddhism relevant to economically and socially marginalized communities.
The author is so close here, but yet so far away. Nothing needs to be adapted or changed in the Dharma to make it more relevant. Sanghas need to be welcoming of new people and help them to establish their practice. That's it. They don't need to have the Dharma wrapped up in 21st-century American pop sociology.
Malcolm
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Re: Buddhism's class "problem"

Post by Malcolm »

tobes wrote: Tue Feb 18, 2020 3:56 am Well tkp67 - evidence is evidence, and that is more than I have to offer!

I wonder if it has something to do with competition. Some family have returned from NYC after a year working there, and their impressions of American culture is that deep competition permeates at every level. So maybe those nearer the top have become more adept at regarding others as competitors?

In my unfounded opinion, nothing is as destructive to compassion as the asura mentality....
Well, they saw NYC. NYC is not America.
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that name does not exist."
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muni
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Re: Buddhism's class "problem"

Post by muni »

tobes wrote: Tue Feb 18, 2020 3:56 am Well tkp67 - evidence is evidence, and that is more than I have to offer!

I wonder if it has something to do with competition. Some family have returned from NYC after a year working there, and their impressions of American culture is that deep competition permeates at every level. So maybe those nearer the top have become more adept at regarding others as competitors?

In my unfounded opinion, nothing is as destructive to compassion as the asura mentality....
Competition is of course linked on individuality, (not particular American). It is very much increasing suffering to have to show always " I can, I know, I am this or that importance" because this is asked from small on in schools. Always having to prove, prove, prove. This is very much suffering. So the approach of Buddhism is in same way because of the education.
And this results in jealousy, which is difficult to turn into rejoicing. The experience of individualism is the problem.

In countries where individualism is weak, and fellows need to focus on enough good food, education for their children, is that kind of suffering less or not. And when you have to walk 3 hours towards school and 3 hours back, there is no energy for any proving. There is not that competion even among young ones who have better circumstances, the individual mentality grows, taken as example of the richer countries with 'the eye to develop'...
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tkp67
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Re: Buddhism's class "problem"

Post by tkp67 »

tobes wrote: Tue Feb 18, 2020 3:56 am Well tkp67 - evidence is evidence, and that is more than I have to offer!

I wonder if it has something to do with competition. Some family have returned from NYC after a year working there, and their impressions of American culture is that deep competition permeates at every level. So maybe those nearer the top have become more adept at regarding others as competitors?

In my unfounded opinion, nothing is as destructive to compassion as the asura mentality....
It is a bit deeper and even more nuanced. These biases exist because they are so hard to see. They are often the crux of my commentary (cognitive biases in general).

If we where to unpack it a bit I think there needs to be a preface based on a comment you made about good heart. Biases don't negate a good heart, biases simply lend to "conceptual compartmentalization" that limit the expression of good based on the boundaries of that conceptualization. It is ultimately a reflection of self and lack of compassion. It becomes even more difficult when the very traits lend to success.

This is one of the deepest teachings of the LS as well which is why it resonates so powerfully with me although I understand many don't perceive the connection.

For reference I have lived within 45 mins of NYC for 50 + years and know the dynamics here very well.
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tkp67
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Re: Buddhism's class "problem"

Post by tkp67 »

It might be easier for the minds here to appreciate the subtly of biases if we equate it to the senses, perception and art.

Some artists have greater than normal senses allowing them to work with a medium through those senses with greater efficiency.

Some painters see a greater variation of color and this access a larger internal palette. Some musicians have perfect pitch. Even if we lack these capacities we can appreciate the difference.

How well do people with these extra ordinary traits feel about them? I would reckon they see them as simply natural aspects of their existence. How difficult is it for them to see their own talents from the perspective of lack? How about from the perspective of lack for all of this existence?

I don't think many have the opportunity to ask that question let alone contemplate the perspective.

Biases aren't necessarily intentional or due to negative consequences. This IMHO is one of the "marks" of the degenerate age. Even good can be seen as even and even good can further disharmony.
Fortyeightvows
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Re: Buddhism's class "problem"

Post by Fortyeightvows »

PeterC wrote: Sun Feb 16, 2020 1:08 amIt’s obvious on even cursory observation that the majority of North American and European Buddhists are white and middle-/upper-class.
How about in Latin America ?
or different parts of Europe ? still only middle/upper class?
Malcolm
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Re: Buddhism's class "problem"

Post by Malcolm »

Fortyeightvows wrote: Sat Jul 18, 2020 8:02 am
PeterC wrote: Sun Feb 16, 2020 1:08 amIt’s obvious on even cursory observation that the majority of North American and European Buddhists are white and middle-/upper-class.
How about in Latin America ?
or different parts of Europe ? still only middle/upper class?
Same.
Crazywisdom
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Re: Buddhism's class "problem"

Post by Crazywisdom »

The problem is that it is mainly an upper middle class thing. We have yet to break into the billionaires. In Asia billionaires, monarchs and such had contributed such that big monasteries could be built where resources were sufficient to help all comers. What the West has is mediocre contribution so only the mediocre can attend. The less than mediocre who would have to rely on giveaways are not supported. This is sad and hopefully this will change. But also the emphasis on retreat is sort of antiquated. We can do better than that. I hope in the future we wil.
Crazywisdom
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Re: Buddhism's class "problem"

Post by Crazywisdom »

Often Dharma when you are young means a certain degree of poverty. There should be a balance. We live in countries where being a poor wanderer is literally a criminal act. How could a yogi live here without being beaten and harassed by police? Small allowances should be made for those with less social capital. Scholars don't do well without yogis for company and vice versa.


If you are a Dharma practitioner, a real Dharma practitioner, things will always work out. We need socialism for ordinary people. But for Dharma people, Dharma provides everything.
this is right, very good
Crazywisdom
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Re: Buddhism's class "problem"

Post by Crazywisdom »

Fortyeightvows wrote: Sat Jul 18, 2020 8:02 am
PeterC wrote: Sun Feb 16, 2020 1:08 amIt’s obvious on even cursory observation that the majority of North American and European Buddhists are white and middle-/upper-class.
How about in Latin America ?
...
I am living in a middle class area of Brazil which makes a US ghetto look luxury, and I am sort of thinking how could anyone here practice dharma? Folks are basically all gig workers hustling anyone and everyone they can to pick up what they need for basic life. The wonder is that they manage to do it. There is a lot of hugging and screaming and yelling in the mix. A lot of open talk about how messed up mentally they feel. A lot of Meu Deus, and Nossa Senhora, proud claims of God in their hearts. A lot of understanding, cold shouldering at difficult moments, intrigues, talking in circles and spy-craft level manipulation. Drunken block parties and mania. At the end of the day the families cling to one another. Family is the religion. Family can do no wrong.

I am reminded what my lamas have all said, go slow, basic dharma, moral ethics... loving kindness and compassion; meditation and enlightenment here is such an airy fairy Idea. Even if they were to believe it, they need deis reais to buy remedios at the farmacia for mae, so that will have to wait.

I have thought about how the love of dance and music could be used to get folks into a ganapuja. I would imagine that would be the extent of it.

The upshot is that the notion of karma has somehow saturated the entire world. It is as if everyone more or less buys into it. That is a good place to start... probably the notion that it feels good to do good... it feels bad to do bad...

The phenomenon of Buddhism is so much smaller here than in N.America and Europe. There so few Vajrayana deals going on, like two in Rio de Janeiro. Zero where I am. The Evangelicals are a powerful force here and Catholic masses are 24/7 televised on several television channels. The former group are aggressive about vocalizing and being judgmental of others. So it is not easy to get through all that here. Sort of a lost cause.

There are many advantages of this place for a serious Vajrayanist. I am keep that under wraps for now.
Last edited by Crazywisdom on Sat Jul 18, 2020 1:11 pm, edited 5 times in total.
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Caoimhghín
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Re: Buddhism's class "problem"

Post by Caoimhghín »

There are a few farmer Buddhists in Cavan, Bethany, and Omemee now that the Wutai Shan is going up. There will in theory be many more impoverished farmer Buddhists in Janetville, my hometown, if the Tibetan Buddhist temple that is planned to be constructed there is ever finished. These are all small-town locations in Ontario. They are not in any way populated by people who have any significant amount of money.
Then, the monks sang this gāthā:

These bodies are like foam.
Them being frail, who can rejoice in them?
The Buddha attained the vajra-body.
Still, it becomes inconstant and rots.
The many Buddhas are vajra-entities.
All are also subject to inconstancy.
Quickly ended, like melting snow --
how could things be different?

The Buddha passed into parinirvāṇa afterward.
(T1.27b10 Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra DĀ 2)
Fortyeightvows
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Re: Buddhism's class "problem"

Post by Fortyeightvows »

I think that it is probably not true that “It’s obvious on even cursory observation that the majority of North American and European Buddhists are white and middle-/upper-class.”

There is just no way that the majority of buddhists in America are white. No way.

Are there any groups in Laredo or El Paso ? They aren’t going to be white Buddhist people there either.

Im not sure definition of middle class, but I am skeptical of that part too.
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Nemo
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Re: Buddhism's class "problem"

Post by Nemo »

I think with the economy tanking and Tibetan Buddhist centres having such elderly Sanghas many will go bankrupt in the next 10 years. Many are little more than private clubs for aging hippies now. Tibetan teachers who grew up in India are really not the same. Things will change rapidly now.

And most Buddhists in America are Asian immigrants. A shame Tibetans chose to settle in India. It didn't work out well. I wish they had chosen a Western country and then flooded it.
narhwal90
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Re: Buddhism's class "problem"

Post by narhwal90 »

If you go to pretty much any SGI center in the US you will find as diverse a crowd as its reasonably possible to obtain- though I suppose exceptions do occur. My local group is actually minority white, the non-white majority being made up of several different minorities (black, asian (sino/japanese or other), asian-indian) and so on, I have seen similar diversity in a number of different SGI centers across the US. Income levels (to the extent hints suggest) are equally diverse. The same may well still be true of Nichiren Shoshu in the US- it certainly was back in the day. There are a fair number of people who grew up in the practice, but mostly all are converts.

But I do also see a startling lack of such diversity in the other centers I've visited, both in skin color and age.
Malcolm
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Re: Buddhism's class "problem"

Post by Malcolm »

Fortyeightvows wrote: Sat Jul 18, 2020 1:41 pm I think that it is probably not true that “It’s obvious on even cursory observation that the majority of North American and European Buddhists are white and middle-/upper-class.”

There is just no way that the majority of buddhists in America are white. No way.

Are there any groups in Laredo or El Paso ? They aren’t going to be white Buddhist people there either.

Im not sure definition of middle class, but I am skeptical of that part too.
You didn't distinguish what kinds of Buddhist you meant. Of course, there are more Asian Buddhist in the Americas. But this is generally "pastoral Buddhism," where wats and and so on are built by immigrant communities to provide pastoral services and traditional rites for lay people by a monastic community. Then of course there is SGI, which is very diverse, and probably has the largest number of black people, Pure Land Buddhism, (though Pure Land generally falls into the pastoral Buddhist category). But in terms of people who are interested in actually practicing Buddhism, apart from SGI and other Nicherin groups, and not merely receiving pastoral services, this is a predominately a white, upper-middle class aging hippy phenomena.
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Könchok Thrinley
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Re: Buddhism's class "problem"

Post by Könchok Thrinley »

Nemo wrote: Sat Jul 18, 2020 1:53 pm I think with the economy tanking and Tibetan Buddhist centres having such elderly Sanghas many will go bankrupt in the next 10 years. Many are little more than private clubs for aging hippies now. Tibetan teachers who grew up in India are really not the same. Things will change rapidly now.

And most Buddhists in America are Asian immigrants. A shame Tibetans chose to settle in India. It didn't work out well. I wish they had chosen a Western country and then flooded it.
Why didn't the indian exile work out well?

Also I would not be as pessimistic. While many centers will have a hard time and probabl disappear, hopefully it will lead to more activity on the part of the students. Quite frankly too much time and money in the west goes to establishing one new center after another. In some cases it is ridiculous.
“Observing samaya involves to remain inseparable from the union of wisdom and compassion at all times, to sustain mindfulness, and to put into practice the guru’s instructions”. Garchen Rinpoche

Formerly known as Miroku.
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Caoimhghín
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Re: Buddhism's class "problem"

Post by Caoimhghín »

Malcolm wrote: Sat Jul 18, 2020 2:41 pm But in terms of people who are interested in actually practicing Buddhism, apart from SGI and other Nicherin groups, and not merely receiving pastoral services, this is a predominately a white, upper-middle class aging hippy phenomena.
I think you've made an inadvertent racial statement that you didn't intend to make. White people have consistently, in my experience, been the most narcissistic and poorest practitioners I have ever met. Of those I've met who do this, it is only white people who ascribe spiritual advancement to drug-induced psychotic episodes, for instance. In contrast, the Sri Lankan immigrant community who funds the Scarborough Mahavihara takes their Buddhism very seriously.

Now I've went and made the opposite racial statement.
Then, the monks sang this gāthā:

These bodies are like foam.
Them being frail, who can rejoice in them?
The Buddha attained the vajra-body.
Still, it becomes inconstant and rots.
The many Buddhas are vajra-entities.
All are also subject to inconstancy.
Quickly ended, like melting snow --
how could things be different?

The Buddha passed into parinirvāṇa afterward.
(T1.27b10 Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra DĀ 2)
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Caoimhghín
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Re: Buddhism's class "problem"

Post by Caoimhghín »

Something else to consider is that Buddhism in the west has inflated statistics on terms of how many white people are actually seriously participating. For instance, there is a movement of what is called "Tantra" amongst a fair amount of "spiritual" gay men in the village party scene of Montreal. This "Tantra" movement is actually just a group of men who have group sex with each other. There is no actually Tantra practiced in it, but participants will say they practice Tantric Buddhism. It's tantric "Buddhism," not Hinduism, specifically because the leader of the group has pretensions to being a Buddhist.

So there's at least ~500 false positives in Montreal. The amount only goes up when we take closer looks in other places.
Then, the monks sang this gāthā:

These bodies are like foam.
Them being frail, who can rejoice in them?
The Buddha attained the vajra-body.
Still, it becomes inconstant and rots.
The many Buddhas are vajra-entities.
All are also subject to inconstancy.
Quickly ended, like melting snow --
how could things be different?

The Buddha passed into parinirvāṇa afterward.
(T1.27b10 Mahāparinirvāṇasūtra DĀ 2)
Malcolm
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Re: Buddhism's class "problem"

Post by Malcolm »

Caoimhghín wrote: Sat Jul 18, 2020 3:05 pm
Malcolm wrote: Sat Jul 18, 2020 2:41 pm But in terms of people who are interested in actually practicing Buddhism, apart from SGI and other Nicherin groups, and not merely receiving pastoral services, this is a predominately a white, upper-middle class aging hippy phenomena.
I think you've made an inadvertent racial statement that you didn't intend to make.
No, I did not make either.

In contrast, the Sri Lankan immigrant community who funds the Scarborough Mahavihara takes their Buddhism very seriously.

And of the many immigrant Buddhist temples of I have been to over the years in the east, south, and west, they mainly let monks do all the practice. As I said, in America, Immigrant Buddhism is mainly a pastoral affair. They are certainly serious about supporting the monastic sangha, but primarily for pastoral services.
Last edited by Malcolm on Sat Jul 18, 2020 4:05 pm, edited 1 time in total.
"Nonduality is merely a name;
that name does not exist."
—Kotalipa
Malcolm
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Re: Buddhism's class "problem"

Post by Malcolm »

Caoimhghín wrote: Sat Jul 18, 2020 3:13 pm Something else to consider is that Buddhism in the west has inflated statistics on terms of how many white people are actually seriously participating. For instance, there is a movement of what is called "Tantra" amongst a fair amount of "spiritual" gay men in the village party scene of Montreal. This "Tantra" movement is actually just a group of men who have group sex with each other. There is no actually Tantra practiced in it, but participants will say they practice Tantric Buddhism. It's tantric "Buddhism," not Hinduism, specifically because the leader of the group has pretensions to being a Buddhist.

So there's at least ~500 false positives in Montreal. The amount only goes up when we take closer looks in other places.
Not talking about this. Talking about refuge-holding, card-carrying Buddhists.
"Nonduality is merely a name;
that name does not exist."
—Kotalipa
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