Skip

Tibetan Buddhism in China
February 22, 2009 10:00 PM   Subscribe

Buddhism's allure is fading for many young Tibetans. At the same time, growing numbers of middle-class ethnic Han Chinese are turning to Tibetan Buddhism. [Via]
posted by homunculus (34 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 


I sometimes wonder about the way Tibetan Buddhism and culture was basically forcibly disseminated. Had the Chinese never invaded and the lamas not fled, Tibet might still be a backwater like Mongolia. Even though I'm not Buddhist, I think there's a good deal of value in many of the Tibetan techniques and psychological outlooks. Now lamas and teachers travel in the West, and many people do indeed benefit by this. What remains in Tibet is mostly an empty mold and some state run temple museums. Many Tibetans consider this a form of their karma manifesting. If anything, it casts what the Chinese did in more nuanced shades of gray.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:09 PM on February 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Had the Chinese never invaded and the lamas not fled, Tibet might still be a backwater like Mongolia.

It all depends on the way you look at it. Tibetan Buddhism was much like European Catholicism: it created an entire intellectual class that led to such excellent philosophical and political leaders as the 14th Dalai Lama, which was pretty good culturally speaking, but it also stamped out local political/religious practices and centralized the government, which wasn't all that great for the peasants. I fully expect to see nasreddin or someone come in here and remind everyone of the latter half of the "development" equation.

On a completely different note, what strikes me about this article is how closely the Tibetan youth's answers parallel modern Japanese religious practices. They don't believe, but they go to the temples anyway for the sake of their parents. Those who do believe consider it a matter of "seeing for yourself" rather than a tradition that must be upheld for its own sake. I think Western liberals can give up on Tibet now because these answers indicate it has been fully modernized. (I suggest focusing on Burma instead.) The answers of the Chinese youth in the other article, on the other hand, are like no political opinion I've ever known. They're saying that the government is wrong but they don't care because it doesn't concern them. That seems to me defeatist.
posted by shii at 10:47 PM on February 22, 2009 [4 favorites]


Buddhism's allure is fading for many young Tibetans. At the same time, growing numbers of middle-class ethnic Han Chinese are turning to Tibetan Buddhism.

Ain't that the way of the world. Like the Blues lost its allure for many African-Americans as it was being embraced by new legions of white folk.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:03 PM on February 22, 2009 [1 favorite]




I fully expect to see nasreddin or someone come in here and remind everyone of the latter half of the "development" equation.

...Me? Why? I mean, I agree that this is important to remember, but I don't know anything about Tibet and I don't have an informed opinion about it.
posted by nasreddin at 11:32 PM on February 22, 2009


I recall a quote in Melvyn Goldstein's book about his anthropological work among the nomads of Phala (sp?) in U-Tsang was back in the 80s were an older respondent has said to him he was far more worried about the effects of Hong Kong movies and commercial culture than Han/Party repression on traditional beliefs and way of life. The latter provokes resistance, the former resembles Mao's famous "sugar-coated bullet."
Han interest in Tibetan Buddhism does seem to be reviving but it's hardly new - there were lamas (including ethnic Han lamas) on Wudangshan pre-Liberation. There's certainly an element of bourgeois exoticism in some of the recent enthusiasm but I've met some very sincere groups as well who besides studying with Tibetan teachers are involved in charitable work in some of the very poor counties of west Sichuan.
posted by Abiezer at 11:47 PM on February 22, 2009


Religion

.
posted by saysthis at 12:03 AM on February 23, 2009


The Buddhism which can be pointed at is not the true Buddhism. Or something.

Anyway, I thought Tibetan Buddhism was safe because it was traditional for families to sent one son to the monastery. Although, in the article, it talks about taking vows, so I guess it's more of a conversion problem than an initial recruitment one.
posted by wastelands at 12:15 AM on February 23, 2009


There is no reason to believe any of the reporting from Tibet in the article since their main sources are a government official and "man on the street" interviews which of course in Tibet are also controlled by the government.
posted by afu at 12:50 AM on February 23, 2009


Tibetan Buddhism was much like European Catholicism

Well, they're both rather long on ritual and fancy dress, somewhat exaggerated veneration for leader figures, and egregiously false doctrines about the physical recurrence of important dead people, all things which are likely to be off-putting to sceptical young people.

I take Abiezer's point about the sugar-coated bullet of Hong Kong culture - but I wonder whether the orthodox communist prescence, however unpopular, also means that unbelief is a visible present alternative in a way which it wasn't in earlier Tibetan history.
posted by Phanx at 1:34 AM on February 23, 2009


unbelief is a visible present alternative

i'm ignorant as well, but isn't unbelief buddhist?

In Tibet, a Clash of Approaches
Revolt of the Monks
posted by kliuless at 4:19 AM on February 23, 2009


i'm ignorant as well, but isn't unbelief buddhist?

Well, no, not really — not in the way you're thinking, at least.

I mean, it's complicated. Even in Tibet, some Buddhists are atheists, and some are skeptics, just as some Christians, Muslims, Jews, etc. are atheists or skeptics. But mainstream Tibetan Buddhism is full of the supernatural — magic, reincarnation, divination, demons, ghosts, other realms of existence, and so on. Americans who convert to Tibetan Buddhism tend to take these as metaphors of some sort ("...oh, I see, when you cling to anger it makes you feel so bad that it's like being reincarnated in hell...") but in Tibet they're quite often taken literally.
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:03 AM on February 23, 2009


he was far more worried about the effects of Hong Kong movies and commercial culture than Han/Party repression on traditional beliefs and way of life

One the strangest things I saw while I was traveling by bus in the Kham region of Sichuan (wastern part of Sichuan that's mostly ethnically Tibetan) were two ethnically Tibetan elementary school kids wearing the standard Chinese elementary school uniform and singing some insipid A-Mei song in perfect Mandarin Chinese (an additional layer of irony being that A-Mei is a Taiwanese aborigine, a completely separate non-Han ethnic group oppressed by a different Han Chinese government).
posted by alidarbac at 6:37 AM on February 23, 2009


it's complicated

i gather :P

thanks!
posted by kliuless at 7:07 AM on February 23, 2009


unbelief is a visible present alternative

i'm ignorant as well, but isn't unbelief buddhist?


The distinction that the Tibetan Buddhists I know make is between believing in a "creator God" and not; they definitely do not believe in a God in the Judeo-Christian sense -- that is, an omnipotent being who created the universe and has dominion over all.

But they do believe in a panoply of gods and demi-gods, in a related cosmology (at least it seems so to my non-expert eye) to Hinduism. These gods and demi-gods have have various meta-physical powers but are themselves mortal (even if their lives may be measured in eons rather than years) and are trapped in samsara (the cycle of life, death, and rebirth caused by karmic effects / non-enlightenment) just as much as humans, animals, and unfortunates like hungry and hell beings are. In addition to the gods and demi-gods there are also many categories of beings with various levels of enlightenment, buddhas, bodhisattvas, arhats, etc., who are more powerful than gods and demi-gods, as they have to some degree escaped the effects of karma and samsara; also, as nebulawindphone says, there are a variety of demons and other magically powerful beings who can also help or hurt the individual who is stumbling through life / samsara.
posted by aught at 8:35 AM on February 23, 2009


shii: I fully expect to see nasreddin or someone come in here and remind everyone of the latter half of the "development" equation.

I think that was Will Shetterly, not nasreddin, who was presenting himself as an expert and providing many links on evidence of the dire situation of the peasants in Tibet before the Chinese invasion in Tibet threads last year.
posted by aught at 8:41 AM on February 23, 2009


i'm ignorant as well, but isn't unbelief buddhist?

The only other quick clarification I would make is that I think your comment is coming from the general public image that the core of Buddhism (largely from the popularity of Zen) is about the "emptiness" or "nothingness" of the "true nature" of existence... which is true but maybe not in the way most people would imagine it to be. I don't actually know a lot about Zen, but the Tibetan take on emptiness certainly works very hard to correct misinterpretations of "emptiness" that might lead you to nihilistic views ("nothing really exists so nothing really matters") of existence.

Emptiness is more about the completely interwoven, inseparable, interdependent nature of all phenomena in the universe than an underlying lack of existence: nothing exists apart from the intricate weave of everything else in the universe, not that nothing exists period. (And as I say, the take in Zen might be different from this, and my own understanding even of what I have studied and mediated on is imperfect, so caveat meditator.)
posted by aught at 8:53 AM on February 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


"allure"
posted by Zambrano at 9:29 AM on February 23, 2009


My impression is that the endgame for Tibet at this point in time is a viable diaspora that maintains the language, religion and cultural history, along with increasing tolerance for practice within current Chinese borders. Realistically, we can't turn the clock back to 1950, and I don't think very many people want that either.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:30 AM on February 23, 2009


Okay, you guys, go over there. And you guys there, come over here. Problem solved!

I should hire myself as a Political Instability Solution Consultant. Even if it's bullshit, the title alone looks like it's worth at least $250k/year.
posted by jamstigator at 9:36 AM on February 23, 2009


Lu Xin, 67, a retired Chinese teacher who began to study Tibetan Buddhism in 1999, said she had recently visited monks in Aba prefecture, in Sichuan province, for a week. "Unlike people in Han Chinese areas, people there are very pure, kind and plain. As soon as I arrived, I felt I was in another world

Interesting passage, there.

Is this a fairly typical attitude? Do Han Chinese idealize the Tibetans this way?
posted by jason's_planet at 11:44 AM on February 23, 2009


i'm ignorant as well, but isn't unbelief buddhist?

Others have covered the god(s) angle upthread, so I will answer it this way: in order to follow a path, you need faith that you will reach your destination, and that the journey is worth making. This is the belief that is required in Buddhism.
posted by desjardins at 12:13 PM on February 23, 2009


Do Han Chinese idealize the Tibetans this way?

Lu Xin isn't necessarily idealizing. When I was traveling in Nepal near the Tibetan border, I met a few people of Tibetan extraction, and I was amazed at their ability to relate to me. Dealing with Nepalese was almost always a confusing experience; communication was difficult, despite the few words of Nepali I knew, and to complicate matters, they used very different facial and hand gestures from Americans. With Tibetans, I was able to carry on what I considered fully satisfying conversations without speaking a word of common language. As a group, they struck me as unusually empathetic.
posted by Greenie at 1:47 PM on February 23, 2009


This is because Buddha has no chat interface.
posted by turgid dahlia at 2:41 PM on February 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Aught, I'm hardly an expert--I just read a lot. Some people trust the CIA and the NED. Others trust the Chinese government. I don't trust either. The best single article I've yet found is Parenti's Friendly Feudalism. He's pretty scathing about both the Dalai Lama and China, so I suppose I trust him more than anyone else. His footnotes are extensive and reliable. One of the NED-funded outfits has what claims to be a refutation of Parenti, but it consists of "is not, is not!" and has few or any sources.

KirkJobSluder, in 1950, Tibet was one of the last countries in the world with legal slavery. No way anyone wants to return to that. Well, maybe a few of the exiles do, but most and maybe all of them have given up on that. A few years after the CIA quit funding the Tibetan rebels in China, the Dalai Lama finally told them to stop fighting. That was probably when the dream of restoring Tibetan feudalism died.
posted by shetterly at 9:09 PM on February 23, 2009


thanks for the clarifications...

maybe instead of unbelief per se, it's not holding fixed beliefs (or becoming too attached to them; how empircial and scientific ;) and -- not to get all i <3>jungian/sheldrakian] holistic bio-semiotic/memetic feedback system etc. :P that is to say, it's all very heraclitean!
posted by kliuless at 4:28 AM on February 24, 2009


[ops! auto-tagged ;]

thanks for the clarifications...

maybe instead of unbelief per se, it's not holding fixed beliefs (or becoming too attached to them; how empircial and scientific ;) and -- not to get all i <3 huckabees -- recognising that the conscious perspective that we only ever individually seem to be capable of achieving (except perhaps thru language, mirror neurons, etc... only it's samsaric illusion/subjectively real/matrix simulacrum/slippery solipsism!) are all sort of apart of a [jungian/sheldrakian] holistic bio-semiotic/memetic feedback system etc. :P that is to say, it's all very heraclitean!
posted by kliuless at 4:31 AM on February 24, 2009


kliuless -- kinda sorta, though it seems to me you're throwing a lot of disparate things into your stew. One key distinction perhaps (I don't know much about the western mysticisms you link to) is that the central emphasis on meditation in Buddhism of all varieties is that it is the tool that you use to turn all the vague woo-woo incomprehensible mysticism and hand-waving into a practical understanding of the reality and one's own mind / consciousness.
posted by aught at 7:18 AM on February 24, 2009




just to clarify, i attributed more to buddhism in my stew that i had any right to, esp the last -- vague woo-woo incomprehensible mysticism -- part :P i would note however that (again nothing to do with buddhism) one interpretation of ecclesiastes' 'all is vanity' is 'all is vapour(ous)'

that is all!
posted by kliuless at 10:10 AM on February 24, 2009




Note that among those I know who are foregoing, or at least toning down, Losar celebrations this year, it's not simply a matter of protesting Chinese policy, but also of remembering and mourning relatives and friends who have died during the occupation and particularly during last year's unrest (with the Tibetan Buddhist angle of wishing them well in their new rebirth, wherever and whatever that might be). I definitely got the impression at the Losar ceremony I attended yesterday morning that many local Tibetans would be spending time praying instead of socializing with friends.
posted by aught at 6:02 AM on February 26, 2009




« Older Conversations with God   |   SXSW 2009 music Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments



Post