Join 3,430 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


The Dalai Lama's Buddhist Foes
June 11, 2009 1:15 PM   Subscribe

The Dalai Lama's Buddhist Foes contrasts "the tolerance and rationalism that the Dalai Lama represents globally and the theological hardball over mystical principles that he seems to play on his home turf." But the Shugdenpas aren't the Dalai Lama's only Buddhist opponents. Tibetan Buddhism's only female living Buddha, the twelfth Samding Dorje Phagmo, who chose to stay in Tibet when the Dalai Lama fled, has said, "The sins of the Dalai Lama and his followers seriously violate the basic teachings and precepts of Buddhism and seriously damage traditional Tibetan Buddhism's normal order and good reputation."

The Dalai Lama has offered reasons for ending Shugden worship. Shugden worshippers believe his real reason is "he wants to become not only the supreme religious leader of all Tibetan traditions but also the universal leader of all Buddhists worldwide."

The battle between continues. A few days ago, two young Shugden monks were sent to the hospital after being beaten by six followers of the Dalai Lama.
posted by shetterly (95 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wait until Thich Nhat Hanh declares himself Pope universal Bhuddist leader from Plum Village in France. Buddhists will have a single universal leader the same day as Christians and Muslims have one (respectively, not together).
posted by GuyZero at 1:36 PM on June 11, 2009


Buddhism is great, and if I had to self-identify with any system of belief it's what I'd roll with. That being said, the reincarnation parts have never been believable to me.
posted by mullingitover at 1:40 PM on June 11, 2009


Well, remember that the Dalai Lama has been backed by the cia for quite a while.
posted by lumpenprole at 1:48 PM on June 11, 2009


Sits on Floor. Allows popcorn to be.
posted by srboisvert at 1:49 PM on June 11, 2009 [19 favorites]


I said it before, but remember that scene in Goodfellas, where Henry and Jimmy find out that Tommy was whacked for stomping out Billy Batts, and Henry says, "It was among the Italians. It was real greaseball shit." I think of this every time I see the words Dorje Shugden.

The struggle over Shugden has been going on for like a hundred years. It's horribly convoluted. Shugden's biggest advocate was Pabongka Rinpoche, who's principle disciples not only were the tutors of the present Dalai Lama, but also the gurus of many of the famous 20th century Tibetan teachers, like Lama Yeshe who's supposed young reincarnation renounced Buddhism in favor of football and girls the other day. Back in the day, the 13th Dalai Lama told Pabongka, "Knock that Shugden shit off, holmes" which Pabonka did, until the 13th DL died, and then he revived it. And now the current Dalai Lama is like, "Come on people, enough with this Shugden jazz." But some of the other tibetans that were initiated under it are like, "Nah, Shugden's cool."

It's like a goddamn episode of General Hospital. It's hopeless to figure out what the hell is going on.
posted by milarepa at 1:49 PM on June 11, 2009 [5 favorites]


I guess we should not be surprised that schisms exist even in Buddhism. As if the Chinese rule were not enough to have to deal with....
It seems to me that the Dalai Lama is indeed the supreme leader [much like the Pope for Catholics] and therefore should be able to lay out the basic tenants of what is 'official' worship. So that argument is not sound. But if human rights abuses or the denial of Identity Certificates for practicing buddhists is happening and the Dalai Lama [or his handlers] are ordering this then that needs to be investigated.
posted by Rashomon at 1:52 PM on June 11, 2009


While there may be some truth in the story that you've outlined, there's not a lot of third party coverage in what you've posted - it's largely a spot of infighting by a bunch of Tibetan Buddhists who feel that they've been disenfranchised unfairly, backed up by someone commonly seen as a puppet of the Chinese government (who certainly isn't a living Buddha and I'm not sure where you got that from).

Certainly, the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Buddhist tradition are a million miles away from how they are typically portrayed in the Western media, but this seems to be a bit of a non story. I think that the idea that the current incarnation is trying to become the universal leader is unlikely given his age, health and frequent suggestions that there will not be a 15th incarnation.

(on preview, what milarepa said, innit!)
posted by daveg at 1:52 PM on June 11, 2009


People and their wangling about things that have no scientific proof.

It baffles me.
posted by kldickson at 1:58 PM on June 11, 2009


Buddhism is great, and if I had to self-identify with any system of belief it's what I'd roll with. That being said, the reincarnation parts have never been believable to me.

Thanks for your thoughts that have nothing to do with the post.
posted by desjardins at 1:58 PM on June 11, 2009 [5 favorites]


"Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense."
- Buddha

Everything else is noise.
posted by mullingitover at 2:00 PM on June 11, 2009 [25 favorites]


kldickson, there's enough wangling about things that do have scientific proof (evolution, climate change), so this is not that much of a shock. It's unfortunate that people who follow a religion predicated on non-violence and compassion would act in this manner, but that's really true of some members of all religions.
posted by desjardins at 2:02 PM on June 11, 2009


I think that the idea that the current incarnation is trying to become the universal leader is unlikely given ...

that he is barely mentioned in other traditions. I hear far, far more about HHDL in the mainstream media than I do in Zen circles. The idea that he could somehow take over Zen, Theravada, etc is flat out ridiculous. I don't know the intricacies of the various Tibetan traditions well enough to comment on those.
posted by desjardins at 2:05 PM on June 11, 2009


Rashomon: It seems to me that the Dalai Lama is indeed the supreme leader [much like the Pope for Catholics] and therefore should be able to lay out the basic tenants of what is 'official' worship.

Even Buddhism turns into shit when it's morphed into organized religion. Which is weird when you consider that the historical Buddha is said to have taught that you shouldn't just believe anything anybody says, including himself, but to try and figure things out for yourself.
Teachers in that context are merely a source of ideas, someone pointing at something for you, someone surprising you with new ideas or concepts to shake you out of your routines and preconceptions. Not someone to instill doctrines or supposed truths in you.
The notion of Buddhist leaders or official doctrines is amusing to me.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 2:06 PM on June 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


Shakyamuni Buddha tells the parable of the raft. A monk is walking through a forest and encounters a wide and perilous river. He realizes he cannot safely cross on his own. Fortunately, he is able to lash together some branches to construct a raft, and paddle across. "Now," the Buddha asks, "once he has crossed should he drop the raft or continue to carry it on his back the rest of his life?" Of course, he should drop it, it is no longer useful.

The teachings of Buddha are supposed to be practically important. They are meant to help one get through the perils of this life with a minimum of suffering. But they do not serve the same descriptive function as Western science. They are only practically important, but are not to be taken as literally true (according to Shakyamuni).

So it seems ironic that there are currently so many struggles over orthodoxy and correct belief, given Shakyamuni Buddha's insistence that no teachings or opinionated views are to be clung to as "absolutely" true, even his own.
posted by reverend cuttle at 2:10 PM on June 11, 2009 [9 favorites]


Rashoman: there is no 'official' worship, the Dalai Lama (who is also not a living Buddha) has done two things: 1) Recommended that Tibetan Buddhists don't propritiate Shugden (not least becasue this leads to a reduced respect for The Buddha); 2) That those who continue in their Shugden practice don't seek him as a teacher.

I think that is likely that some overzealous followers go overboard in 'enforcing' others behaviour, but this has always happened in Tibetan Buddhism (and other traditions)

kldickson: I presume that you are also baffled by everything else in the world that has no scientific proof (art, music, love, human relationships, conscious thought, ..., you get the idea)

desjardins: Buddhism is not predicated on non-violence (the Shaolin and the Nichiren spring to mind, and I think that there has been somefairly extreme violence found in some Zen traditions ¬~¦
posted by daveg at 2:12 PM on June 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


desjardins: "Thanks for your thoughts that have nothing to do with the post."

lolwut

We're talking about the Dalai Lama, a figure in Tibetan Buddhism whose authority is derived from his supposed reincarnation.
posted by mullingitover at 2:12 PM on June 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


See, this is why I'm Theravada and not Mahayana. Mahayana is all sectarian and crazy and shit.

(Just kidding. Sort of.)
posted by saulgoodman at 2:14 PM on June 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


everything else in the world that has no scientific proof (art, music, love, human relationships, conscious thought

Not to be a dick, but it's pretty trivial to prove those things exist compared to reincarnation.
posted by lumpenprole at 2:16 PM on June 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


So it seems ironic that there are currently so many struggles over orthodoxy and correct belief, given Shakyamuni Buddha's insistence that no teachings or opinionated views are to be clung to as "absolutely" true, even his own.

Well, I suppose conflicts would be understandable if the teachings of the Shugdenpa are detrimental to one's salvation--i.e. a leaky raft.

I'm always mystified (no pun intended) by the Western romanticization of Buddhism as entirely peaceful and without conflict.
posted by reverend cuttle at 2:17 PM on June 11, 2009


reverend cuttle: "I'm always mystified (no pun intended) by the Western romanticization of Buddhism as entirely peaceful and without conflict."

This is why we need to have more buddhism-related flameouts to set things straight. Who's with, er, against me?
posted by mullingitover at 2:22 PM on June 11, 2009


mullingitover: that "quote" is a misinterpretation of the Kalama Sutta. More discussion here.
posted by desjardins at 2:23 PM on June 11, 2009


desjardins: Buddhism is not predicated on non-violence (the Shaolin and the Nichiren spring to mind, and I think that there has been somefairly extreme violence found in some Zen traditions ¬~¦

Hmm. Is that so? That's not the "The Noble Eightfold Path" I know and love (from the Cunda Kammaraputta Sutta on Right Action):
And how is one made pure in three ways by bodily action? There is the case where a certain person, abandoning the taking of life, abstains from the taking of life. He dwells with his...knife laid down, scrupulous, merciful, compassionate for the welfare of all living beings. Abandoning the taking of what is not given, he abstains from taking what is not given. He does not take, in the manner of a thief, things in a village or a wilderness that belong to others and have not been given by them. Abandoning sensual misconduct, he abstains from sensual misconduct. He does not get sexually involved with those who are protected by their mothers, their fathers, their brothers, their sisters, their relatives, or their Dhamma; those with husbands, those who entail punishments, or even those crowned with flowers by another man. This is how one is made pure in three ways by bodily action.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:23 PM on June 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Please. The current Dalai Lama doesn't even particularly want to be leader of Tibetan Buddhism now, from everything I have read, never mind "universal" leader of all Buddhism "worldwide," which is completely absurd, and which statement alone discredits Dorje Pakmo to no small degree.

I have witnessed protests in person by Dorje Shugden practitioners (usually Westerners in standard Tibetan monastic clothing, curiously), and I find the vehement conflict over Dorje Shugden practice very sad, and a bit disillusioning. I can't help thinking -- acknowledging that I am not a very advanced practitioner of any aspect of Buddhism -- both sides are letting themselves be taken very far afield from the valuable qualities of Buddhism, like compassion, equanimity, and insight into dependent-arising / emptiness.

It seems to me that the Dalai Lama is indeed the supreme leader [much like the Pope for Catholics]

It might seem that way to outsiders but, first, he's really only the leader of one of the half-dozen or so branches (Gelug) of Tibetan Buddhism, and has no authority (and claims none) over any other ethnic variety of Buddhism. It's probably worth keeping in mind that the basic texts of Buddhism take great pains to advise Buddhists to be skeptical about authority and received wisdom and to test everything they are told against what they feel is right based on their own experiences. In practice, of course, people want to be told by a leader what to do and disregard such cautions, which is unfortunate.

Buddhism is not predicated on non-violence (the Shaolin and the Nichiren spring to mind, and I think that there has been somefairly extreme violence found in some Zen traditions


All my exposure to Buddhism has stresses compassion and non-violence as core values of the practice and ethics, but I don't know anything about whatever branch of Buddhism Shaolin kungfu might be connected to (Chan, perhaps).

All that said, leave it to our friend Shetterly to make a post that casts the worst possible light on Tibetan Buddhism and the Dalai Lama. I guess he has a reputation to maintain.
posted by aught at 2:25 PM on June 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


lumpenprole: I will be extremely impressed if you can provide scientific proof for any one of the things you listed, never mind proving any of teh concepts within them. The whole point, is that science is very good at some things, but other things simply do not sit within its realm - it is meaningless to ask the scientific question whether you can prove that something is a piece of art (for example, creationism, aesthetics, English literature, etc. do not belong in a science class at school)
posted by daveg at 2:26 PM on June 11, 2009


Buddhism is not predicated on non-violence

What? The very first precept is I undertake the precept to refrain from destroying living creatures. Sure, there are people who don't follow it, just like plenty of Christians disobey the Commandments, but that doesn't mean that Buddhism itself is somehow violent.
posted by desjardins at 2:26 PM on June 11, 2009


Regarding the confusion about "Living Buddha," Wikipedia's entry on tulku might help. Both the Dalai Lama and Dorje Phagmo are considered tulkus, or incarnations.

daveg, Samding Dorje Phagmo was installed in 1947, several years before the Chinese came. Unless Mao used a time machine, she can't be a Chinese puppet.
posted by shetterly at 2:27 PM on June 11, 2009


The root insights of Buddhism are remarkably powerful; Buddhists are sort of the ur-hackers, the guys working on their own heads.

But people really, really want to believe in the supernatural, and as we've seen so many times in the Western world, it's remarkably difficult to talk them out of it. The motive-seeking mind REQUIRES there to be motives for random occurences, and thus we invent supernatural entities to carry the motives. It takes a very high degree of mental sophistication to understand that the imaginary being can't actually exist, and many people never develop that far. (hell, I'm pretty sure the whole concept of motive-seeking as a hardwired brain function, part of our Theory of Mind, is a very recent thought, just a few years old.)

So, even Buddhism is plagued by gods and arguments about gods, because people just can't give them up. The invisible carrier-of-motives MUST exist, because random shit can't _really_ be random. And even though Buddhism is precisely about detecting and correcting this kind of mental error, not everyone in that faith succeeds.

It's a hell of a problem.
posted by Malor at 2:28 PM on June 11, 2009 [7 favorites]


Mahayana is all sectarian and crazy and shit.

Damn right.
posted by desjardins at 2:29 PM on June 11, 2009


I think that the idea that the current incarnation is trying to become the universal leader is unlikely given his age, health and frequent suggestions that there will not be a 15th incarnation.

posted by daveg


really? he's had enough of this world then? i wonder what would happen without one.
posted by fuzzypantalones at 2:29 PM on June 11, 2009


I'm not here to convince anyone that rebirth really exists - it doesn't matter to me one way or another. However, consider trying to convince me that love exists when I have not loved. What empirical proof can you provide other than "I have felt it" and "Lots of people say so"?
posted by desjardins at 2:34 PM on June 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


So, even Tibetan Buddhism is plagued by gods and arguments about gods

other traditions, not so much.
posted by desjardins at 2:35 PM on June 11, 2009


Both the Dalai Lama and Dorje Phagmo are considered tulkus, or incarnations.

Yeah, but they're considered incarnations of Bodhisattvas, not Buddhas. That's because they've taken the Boddhisattva Vow, promising to defer their own Buddha-hood (because once you attain full Buddha-hood you don't come back again after death--that's the whole point of attaining Buddha-hood) until the world of Samsara is empty of all sentient beings.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:40 PM on June 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


Regarding the confusion about "Living Buddha," Wikipedia's entry on tulku might help. Both the Dalai Lama and Dorje Phagmo are considered tulkus, or incarnations.
But "living Buddha" is just the English rendering of the shit Chinese translation of tulku, which is more closely "emanation body" in English and not the same as incarnation in the usual Western sense. If you consciously choose to use it you've pretty much indicated you're taking an ideological/theological position, one associated with a hostile discourse external to Tibetan Buddhism itself.
posted by Abiezer at 2:44 PM on June 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


aught, apologies for not making the post clearer. The Samding Dorje Phagmo only said what I credited her with in the first paragraph. The quote in third paragraph isn't hers; it goes to an interview with Lobsang Yeshi Jampel Gyatso.
posted by shetterly at 2:45 PM on June 11, 2009


However, consider trying to convince me that love exists when I have not loved. What empirical proof can you provide other than "I have felt it" and "Lots of people say so"?

Define your terms?
posted by adamdschneider at 2:46 PM on June 11, 2009


Abiezer, is Thich Nhat Hanh someone "associated with a hostile discourse external to Tibetan Buddhism itself"? He used the phrase for the title of a book. There was a documentary made in 1994 with that title which appears to have accepted the Dalai Lama's claims unreservedly. You can find a page here using the term for Karmapa Lama. Here's another, in an article that's very critical of China. Here's Time Magazine using the term.

So, regarding, "If you consciously choose to use it you've pretty much indicated you're taking an ideological/theological position," the internet's answer would seem to be "No."
posted by shetterly at 3:01 PM on June 11, 2009


"People see hope in the Dalai Lama," says Shelley Turner, another protester spokesperson, with some empathy. "Seeing these protests against him must make them feel hopeless." She means, when they finally hear the harsh truth about him. Others surely believe the truth is on his side.
So the Dalai Lama is sort of like Michael Jackson, a figure you can't criticise in case you make some children cry?
posted by acb at 3:08 PM on June 11, 2009


Western Buddhist converts form their own distinct sub-set of Buddhists whose beliefs are vastly different from "native" Buddhists. No Tibetan ever paid $125 for a meditation pillow ordered from the back of Tricycle.
posted by GuyZero at 3:12 PM on June 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


shetterly - note the "consciously choose" - lazy or uninformed journalists picking it up is of course something else (I see it's in inverted commas at your Karmapa link too). The Thich Nhat Han book title is an entirely unrelated usage and I'm not sure what you think the connection there is.
posted by Abiezer at 3:14 PM on June 11, 2009


shetterley: I think that the perception of Samding Dorje Phagmo as a Chinese puppet is that she has lived in Tibet under the Chinese rule for 50+ years and that she has either been 'turned' by the Chinese, forced to say things, or has found it expedient to expound the official line.

desjardins: while the first precept is indeed as you state, everything is still a balancing act of sorts - in the Anguttara Nikaya, it is clear (from my reading) that depending on the circumstances of the killing, the taking of life may just lead to a short life span when reborn (it is the cultivation and deliberate habit of killing that proved most injurious to one. As with all of the teachings, they are guidance as to the path, not hard and fast rules - if a madman is about to slaughter many people, I think that it would be correct to kill him first.
posted by daveg at 3:15 PM on June 11, 2009


and that she has either been 'turned' by the Chinese, forced to say things, or has found it expedient to expound the official line.

That would make sense to me. Trying to sow fear that 'the Dalai Lama wants to take over Buddhism' is precisely the way the Chinese government would think and frame things. It does not sound at all Buddhist to me.
posted by Malor at 3:34 PM on June 11, 2009


Abiezer, you're welcome to your interpretation, of course. But you might want to take a look at Living Buddha, which was posted to youtube by "For Free Tibet & World Peace". Are they "associated with a hostile discourse external to Tibetan Buddhism itself"?
posted by shetterly at 3:38 PM on June 11, 2009


Malor, since you missed my apology to aught, I'll try to make this clearer:

The Samding Dorje Phagmo only said, "The sins of the Dalai Lama and his followers seriously violate the basic teachings and precepts of Buddhism and seriously damage traditional Tibetan Buddhism's normal order and good reputation."

It was Lobsang Yeshi Jampel Gyatso who said, "he wants to become not only the supreme religious leader of all Tibetan traditions but also the universal leader of all Buddhists worldwide."

So far as i know, there's absolutely no connection between Dorje Phagmo and Gyatso. They come from different traditions, and they live in different countries.
posted by shetterly at 3:43 PM on June 11, 2009


I'm not here to convince anyone that rebirth really exists - it doesn't matter to me one way or another. However, consider trying to convince me that love exists when I have not loved. What empirical proof can you provide other than "I have felt it" and "Lots of people say so"?
Encephalograms.

I don't know if it's currently measurable or not, but I would be shocked to find out that there is no correlation between professing to love someone and your brain activity patterns when you, say, seeing a picture of that person.

Sure, you can continue your argument further, saying, for example, that just because there's a measurable phenomenon associated with professed love doesn't mean that's really what love is. But at that point, you're just jerking around definitions.
posted by Flunkie at 3:45 PM on June 11, 2009


Cheers, I will; it's not just my interpretation but a point I've heard made by many Tibetans, particularly in the context of this debate in Chinese. That you can find instances of foreign film-makers, journalists and so on using it unaware of that doesn't changed the general association.
posted by Abiezer at 3:49 PM on June 11, 2009


And, I forgot to say, arguing that the fact that you can jerk those definitions around is similar to the inability to prove the concept of reincarnation seems, frankly, a bit silly.
posted by Flunkie at 3:49 PM on June 11, 2009


Western Buddhist converts form their own distinct sub-set of Buddhists whose beliefs are vastly different from "native" Buddhists. No Tibetan ever paid $125 for a meditation pillow ordered from the back of Tricycle.

This is an extremely important point to remember. Never mind the Western practitioners in US and Europe versus impoverished Buddhists in Tibet, India, Burma, China, etc. - you can even see the weirdness of this split in a dharma center located (as our local one is in Ithaca NY) in a city where there is a refugee population. The Tibetans I meet (many of whom work pretty basic service jobs and don't have a lot of money) are way too polite and reserved ever to say, but I do frequently wonder what they think of some of the upper-middle class "trying-on-Tibetan-Buddhism-this-month, don't you just love my new ergonomic wedge meditation cushion and turquoise mala beads" types.

A dissenting point of view though has been voiced by a couple of the monks I have taken classes with who said that many native Tibetans may be very strong in the faith and tradition department, but don't take the time to read the sutras and other important texts themselves, so they lack the conceptual and analytical depth that many Western students tend to be eager to explore. So there's that anyhow.
posted by aught at 3:51 PM on June 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


If it's criticism of Buddhism and the Dalai Lama you're after, "The Shadow of the Dalai Lama" is your one-stop shop. "Friendly Feudalism" rounds things out. The Dead Kennedys nailed it in 1984 [lyrics] [video].
posted by eccnineten at 3:54 PM on June 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


Abiezer, I do appreciate knowing that the term is imprecise and was influenced by Chinese Buddhism. Our silly language is full of things we got third-hand, and as a word nerd, I'm grateful for learning that "living Buddha" is another.
posted by shetterly at 4:05 PM on June 11, 2009


aught, yes, Tricycle merchandise snark aside, there's really no way to say that one groups is more right than the other. Western Buddhists are much more in touch with the readings and literary tradition, the "natives" have lived their entire lives in the actual cultural tradition. Western Buddhists have aspirations more in line with monks as opposed to lay Buddhists.

My vibe on Tibetan and other buddhist refugee/immigrant groups is that they're pretty mellow and mostly happy to be somewhere where the can practice their religion freely.
posted by GuyZero at 4:07 PM on June 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


shetterly - the point I was making with the "hostile" is that the objection I've heard from Tibetans is that as a poor translation it does muddy the waters on incarnation and they feel that in official rhetoric in the PRC, the term 活佛 is associated with the position that the central state has always had the final say on important reincarnations, which as I'm sure you're aware is a major bone of contention.
On the other hand, I see why people not interested in the finer points use it, because transliterated terms like tulku don't mean anything to the general non-Buddhist reader. I've also heard the Chinese term used by Han lay followers of Tibetan Buddhist teachers, so I certainly don't want to overdo the idea that it's just some sort of Newspeak.
Myself, I happen to have been paid to translate texts relating to the subject, which is how I first learned of the debate.
posted by Abiezer at 4:18 PM on June 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Tibetans sure don't like Shugden as much as white people who think they're making a point.
posted by mobunited at 4:27 PM on June 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Reincarnation in Buddhism: What the Buddha Didn't Teach
posted by homunculus at 5:31 PM on June 11, 2009


posted by Hairy Lobster at 2:06 PM
posted by daveg at 2:12 PM on June 11

You're right. I misread and combined Buddhism in general with Tibetan Buddhism. I guess it just seems to me the Dalai Lama does have some influence and authority over many practicing Buddhists.
But yes, Buddhism gets interpreted differently in different areas of the world. That is part of the way Buddhism is set up and partly because it is human nature to interpret.
posted by Rashomon at 5:33 PM on June 11, 2009


Abiezer, in their place, I'd be annoyed with term also. From what I've read, "living Buddha" works in a metaphorical/poetic sense, but tulkus are meant to be incarnations of specific individuals, a meaning that's lost with "living buddha". I'll stick to "tulku" and "incarnation" from now on.

mobunited, where are the white people in this two-minute video, Tibetan Refugees Lose Faith in Dalai Lama? I only saw Tibetans who seem to be quite heartbroken over being ostracized because of their faith.
posted by shetterly at 5:38 PM on June 11, 2009


Western Buddhist converts form their own distinct sub-set of Buddhists whose beliefs are vastly different from "native" Buddhists. No Tibetan ever paid $125 for a meditation pillow ordered from the back of Tricycle.

I'm a second-generation Western Buddhist, and while I don't in any way compare myself to a "native" Buddhist, I've got to say that the Tricycle reading crowd makes me a little bats. The trend to describe everything "peaceful" as "Zen" (please don't get me started on "Zen Habits" - we could be here for a while) and the related trend of Buddha statues as home decor...

No non-Christian is going to have a giant crucifix in their home, but non-Buddhists have these big ol' smiling laughing Buddhas in their homes because they're "calming" and it puzzles me. It's not that I'm saying that they shouldn't, but I wonder why they do. Buddhism in the West isn't really taken seriously, as a religion. It's more of a fad or a self-help technique. Hell, I saw Buddha EARRINGS in my local Teenybopper Accessory Boutique. I've never seen the equivalent for any other religion.

So, Buddha is cute. Great. And the Dalai Lama is seen as a big cuddly peacenik. It's completely glossed over that he's the leader of a secular community as well as a religious community and no communities are without controversy. I'm a big Dalai Lama fan-girl, but it in no way surprises me to hear that he's controversial or that some of his followers have perpetrated violence. He's a major world leader, that's not a position that anyone can occupy without stirring up some shit.

And yeah, I kind of wish these people with their overpriced meditation cushions would get off my lawn. I've had Buddhist altars in my home since before they even heard of the Boddhisattva vow.

(Which, obviously, I have not taken. I'm nowhere near "living Buddha" and am likely to be reincarnated as a cranky old goat.)
posted by grapefruitmoon at 5:38 PM on June 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


Yeah. Shopping mall Buddhism really irks me too. Zen, in particular, seems particularly appealing to that trendier impulse. Apart from one handmade Thangka I own of Mara clutching the wheel of Samsara in his claws (which I keep covered), I don't own a single piece of "Buddhist" paraphernalia. Not even a meditation mat. Yet an attorney my wife works with, who doesn't even particularly identify himself as Buddhist, has a giant "Zen Garden," complete with a big Laughing Buddha statue.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:30 PM on June 11, 2009


No non-Christian is going to have a giant crucifix in their home

Unless it looks really goth.
posted by chiraena at 6:49 PM on June 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


All the religions in the world, plus atheism, are racing to stand up to Metafilter snark. But so far, only the snark itself conquers all arguments.
posted by shii at 7:28 PM on June 11, 2009


Church of snark? Subgenius or Discordianism
posted by Balisong at 7:35 PM on June 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


But can snark conquer snark?

And if not, hasn't it defeated itself already?

/snark koan
posted by saulgoodman at 8:02 PM on June 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


I don't own a single piece of "Buddhist" paraphernalia.

I got my one and only Buddha statue from one of the merch sellers when I went to go see His Holiness XIV Dalai Lama at Foxboro (or whatever they call it these days). I figured that was a pretty good occasion to commemorate with a small piece of swag. But yeah, before that I didn't have any paraphernalia, though I could raid my parents' house for any number of authentic Chinese geegaws from either my childhood altar or my stepfather's trips to China.

I see "Pocket Buddhas" and "Buddha lights" at Borders, and to be fair, I've also seen glitter statues of the Blessed Virgin (I guess she's kind of kitschy too these days, come to think of it) and they piss me off equally.

I will admit that I once saw, and coveted, a Ganesh nightlight, but that would have been the case with any elephant-based lamp and was not specific to Ganesh as a deity.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 8:08 PM on June 11, 2009


GuyZero: What has Thich Nhat Hahn ever done to suggest he wants to be "pope"? I'm genuinely curious... he seems like a humble and undogmatic guy, if a bit soft on philosophical rigor.
posted by phrontist at 8:45 PM on June 11, 2009


It's an oblique reference to the fact that when the Catholic church had its capital-S Schism it was French Popes vs Italian Popes. Maybe there was more to it. And Plum Village is in France. Anyway, it was a attempt at a joke. But if you really squint hard you could see similarities medieval Catholicism and modern Buddhism. You might need to close both eyes too.

I'm pretty sure Thich Nhat Hahn doesn't want to be Pope of anything (that I know of).

I will admit that I once saw, and coveted, a Ganesh nightlight

We have a Ganesh keyholder by the front door. I'm guessing it was made in India as it has a kind of Pier One vibe. Am I a bad person? If so, I blame the keyholder on my wife.
posted by GuyZero at 9:26 PM on June 11, 2009


No non-Christian is going to have a giant crucifix in their home, but non-Buddhists have these big ol' smiling laughing Buddhas in their homes...

In a word: Orientalism. Also, lay Buddhists don't really have the same relationship with iconography as lay Christians do. And, well, Orientalism. And ignorant westerners. Who are reflexively predisposed to Orientalism.

I suppose sometimes people end up with Buddha statues by occident.
posted by GuyZero at 9:38 PM on June 11, 2009 [7 favorites]


I remember seeing these cutesy manga-eyed stuffed-animal-style Buddhas* at all the temple gift shops in Japan, and wondering "isn't that kind of sacrilegious?!" But as GuyZero said, the relationship with the iconography isn't the same as in Western traditions.

(But even knowing that, it weirds me out to see those statues of the fat laughing bodhisattva sold as decoration here in America. Like having a menorah in your window year-round or something.)

*and in Nara, they had little buddha/deer hybrid dolls, of course
posted by lolichka at 10:25 PM on June 11, 2009


grapefruitmoon:
If it makes you feel better, I do know some Chinese people with giant smiling Buddha statutes in their homes. Then again, I also have been to people's houses and seen big statues of Guan Yu (war god) and Guan Yin (goddess of mercy). And sometimes, small statutes of Bruce Lee, though I think that's a strictly Cantonese thing.
posted by wuwei at 10:47 PM on June 11, 2009


The idea of cute Buddha statues sent me searching, and sure enough, here's one from Kamakura - Hase-dera Temple. And, while googling, I came across a Bruce Lee statue. I'm trying to imagine what offering one leaves there.
posted by shetterly at 11:21 PM on June 11, 2009


I believe the traditional offering is a roundhouse to the face.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 1:49 AM on June 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Happy happy happy!
posted by markkraft at 5:22 AM on June 12, 2009


More Happy Happy Happiness!

... Happy Happy Happy!
... Happy Happy Happy!
... Happy Happy Happy!
... Happy Happy Happy!
...Happy Happy Happy!
... Happy Happy Happy!
posted by markkraft at 5:44 AM on June 12, 2009


grapefruitmoon: the related trend of Buddha statues as home decor...

Yeah, I have to grit my teeth every time I go to Target. Then I wonder why it bothers me. It's just a piece of wood/metal/plastic.

No non-Christian is going to have a giant crucifix in their home, but non-Buddhists have these big ol' smiling laughing Buddhas in their homes because they're "calming" and it puzzles me. It's not that I'm saying that they shouldn't, but I wonder why they do.

I suspect it's because of the common misperception that Buddhism isn't really a religion, therefore it doesn't need to be respected in the same way. Also, Asian = exotic, unknown, unlikely to offend the people you invite to your house. Non-Christians run the real risk of offending a majority of the people they know. Buddhists are something like 0.6% of the US population.

I don't like to play the game of "who's a REAL buddhist" because it's just a distraction to my time on the ($75, kapok, free shipping) cushion.

Flunkie: Sure, you can continue your argument further

No argument here; I was trying to (backwardly) point out that empirical proof is not needed in order to know that something is true. I know I love my husband without an encephelogram. I can't necessarily convince you of it, or even him, if he thought he didn't deserve to be loved or something like that.

Also, please note my use of "rebirth" as opposed to "reincarnation" - two different things, and as homunculus' link notes, Buddha didn't teach reincarnation, so the whole "Buddhism is great - except for that reincarnation nonsense" is a strawman.
posted by desjardins at 8:05 AM on June 12, 2009


Oh, I know plenty of Chinese homes have Buddha statues. Like I say, they were everywhere around my house as a kid. Laughing Buddha by the sink... Buddha hanging out in the bookcase... Buddha attaining enlightenment in the backyard... couldn't swing a dead cat without hitting a Buddha.

But my parents were, y'know, (at the time) Buddhist.

So, it kind of weirds me out when I read decor magazines or go to home furnishing stores and see GIANT BUDDHA HEADS everywhere. Really guys? Really? It's like when they made that horrible Mike Myers Cat in the Hat - they're taking my childhood and peeing on it.

And yeah, it's a good point that Buddhist iconography isn't really analogous to Christian iconography. Still though, I also agree that Buddhism isn't taken seriously as an actual religion. My hardbound edition of The Tibetan Book of the Dead with introductory commentary by the Dalai Lama ($29.95 at Borders!) would beg to differ.

I don't like to play the game of "who's a REAL buddhist" because it's just a distraction to my time on the ($75, kapok, free shipping) cushion.

Aw man, that's one of my favorite games. "No, I'm less attached to the wheel of samsara!" "No, I sat under the Bodhi tree and realized that we are all empty and awake!"
posted by grapefruitmoon at 8:48 AM on June 12, 2009


It's an oblique reference to the fact that when the Catholic church had its capital-S Schism it was French Popes vs Italian Popes.

Not that the anti-pope crisis and the moving of the See from Avignon to Rome was a minor event, but it was still quite a bit less significant than the actual "capital-S Schism," the Great Schism which split the Church in half between the Western, organized, universally hierarchical Catholic Church and the Eastern, local, national patriarchies of Orthodoxy.
posted by jock@law at 10:16 AM on June 12, 2009


grapefruitmoon:
yes the giant Buddha heads at Pier One are jarring to me as well. And you are right, Buddhism isn't taken seriously as a religion, when in fact, it is one. What did you think of those 2 critical links posted up thread, the Parenti article and the book?
posted by wuwei at 10:31 AM on June 12, 2009


The Shugden controversy is an unbelievably complex subject, in which it is very difficult to get to core motivations. Participants in the dispute are not willing to share, much less agree on fundamental facts. ("Metafilter: an unbelievably...")

the Dalai Lama (who is also not a living Buddha) has ... Recommended that Tibetan Buddhists don't propitiate Shugden (not least because this leads to a reduced respect for The Buddha)


The Dalai Lama has not proscribed propitiation of other protector deities, so his motivation for proscribing the Shugden practices has nothing to do with respect for 'The Buddha' (not sure who that would be - Vajrasattva? There are countless Buddhas in the Tibetan tradition). The Wikipedia article on the controversy specifically mentions other protectors (rather than 'The Buddha') as the source of the conflict:

the 14th Dalai Lama stated that the practice is in conflict with the state protector Pehar and with the main protective goddess of the Gelug tradition and the Tibetan people, Palden Lhamo.


This is what fascinates me about the controversy - I cannot tell whether this is a straightforward political fight, or a contest of magical wills. Does the Dalai Lama believe in Shugden, or does he merely see the Shugden practice as a threat to political unity? Do these guys believe this stuff? I'm inclined to think so. Is that belief, rather than political ambition, the main reason for the conflict? I really can't tell.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 10:36 AM on June 12, 2009


not_that_epiphanius, what fascinates me is everyone seems to agree that the Dalai Lama included Shugden in his rituals until the 1970s. That's a very interesting time: it's when the CIA quit paying the Tibetan rebels, and the Dalai Lama finally told them to stop fighting to restore the theocracy, and instead began advocating for a limited form of democracy in Tibet.
posted by shetterly at 10:56 AM on June 12, 2009


On the Parenti article:
This grim history remains largely unvisited by present-day followers of Tibetan Buddhism in the West.

Well, yeah. I'm going to go ahead and make the blanket statement that non-European history is in general, largely unvisited by the West in general. I'll be the first to admit that I don't know as much about Buddhist history as I do about Christian history as the former wasn't taught in K-12 (and I never took classes on it in college because, well, I was too busy inhaling paint fumes).

I'll also say that the fact that Buddhist history is bloody and tinged doesn't surprise me as yes, it's a religion and religions, while inspiring good in people, can also inspire people to believe that THEIR religious philosophy is the only TRUE philosophy... something which you can still see today as inspiring hatred and crusading against other religions, even other sects of *your* religion.

Buddha taught compassion. Christ taught his followers to love thy neighbor as thyself. Neither have actually inspired all of their followers to follow these examples all of the time and often, the general loving and peaceful message of religious philosophy gets cast aside for petty squabbles about doctrine.

In the words of the great philosopher Vonnegut: So it goes.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 11:10 AM on June 12, 2009


So, it was part of enlightened political change, rather than magical warfare? I'd like to think this is the case.

The exclusion of the Shugden practitioners is pretty undemocratic though.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 11:13 AM on June 12, 2009


Thinking about it: This sort of ignorance of the bloody parts of Buddhist history is part and parcel with the Western "cutesy-fication" of Buddhism. Awww, look at da pwecious wittle lama! His country is so nice and peaceful! Dawwww. There's a religion where they don't hit each other! Isn't dat sweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeettttttttttttt.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 11:14 AM on June 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


This post, all the infighting, and most of the comments are shit on a stick.
posted by Twang at 12:00 PM on June 12, 2009


Twang: Huh? I don't really see any infighting here. I was really enjoying this post and now, I am lost in a haze of confusion.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 12:07 PM on June 12, 2009


I cannot tell whether this is a straightforward political fight, or a contest of magical wills.

I don't think these things are necessarily distinct in Tibetan history / politics.
posted by aught at 12:40 PM on June 12, 2009


Twang, you ain't seen nothing. Hang out over at e-sangha and read some of the doctrinal debates. Maybe the moderation has gotten tougher lately, but a few years back there were some dramatic flameouts the likes of what MetaTalk has never seen.
posted by desjardins at 12:54 PM on June 12, 2009


I presume twang's referencing Yunmen's (Ummon) famous koan. Or perhaps we are all just talking shite.
posted by Abiezer at 1:20 PM on June 12, 2009


* fights with in *

HWAH! HOOO! /thud
posted by everichon at 1:31 PM on June 12, 2009


What Metafilter need is more koans.
posted by GuyZero at 2:08 PM on June 12, 2009


I have to wonder, if people in some Eastern country developed an interest in Christianity, which involved them reading about and trying to follow the "love and compassion" parts of Jesus' teachings but remaining largely unaware of, say, the history of the Catholic Church or the role of Christian denominations in the pro-life movement, would people here be castigating them as "shopping mall Christians"?

I have a hard time seeing ignorance of sectarian conflict as harming, rather than helping, one's understanding of a faith.
posted by bjrubble at 6:03 PM on June 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Abiezer, great koans! I just keep loving Wikipedia.

bjrubble, forgive me if I'm misreading you, but I think knowledge of sectarian conflict should help everyone's understanding of their faith. It may weaken their faith in a specific sect, but it doesn't have to weaken their faith in the faith itself. Knowledge may even redouble their faith if they try to heal what's been hurt by sectarianism.
posted by shetterly at 6:48 PM on June 12, 2009


would people here be castigating them as "shopping mall Christians"?

bjrubble: Let me clarify myself for a second here (though I realize you may not have specifically meant to call me out when you alluded to the phrase "shopping mall Buddhists" in my comment up-thread).

By the term "shopping mall Buddhists," it wasn't my intention to criticize people who meditate, read about Buddhism and study the suttas, but who don't necessarily immerse themselves in the cultural and historical realities of Buddhism, or the peculiarities of particular sects, etc.

I use the term here to refer to people who, while they might buy mass-produced Buddhism-themed trinkets and ornamental objects and otherwise put on a good outward display of being Buddhists, meanwhile don't show the slightest interest in learning what the Buddha actually taught, clinging only to certain half-formed ideas about karma and reincarnation, and remaining wholly uninterested in the rest.

Just to clarify that, if it wasn't clear.
posted by saulgoodman at 9:43 PM on June 12, 2009


I use the term here to refer to people who, while they might buy mass-produced Buddhism-themed trinkets and ornamental objects and otherwise put on a good outward display of being Buddhists, meanwhile don't show the slightest interest in learning what the Buddha actually taught, clinging only to certain half-formed ideas about karma and reincarnation, and remaining wholly uninterested in the rest.

Yes, that's also what I meant. You could also use the phrase "Self-Help Buddhists." Honestly, I've read any number of books about "Buddhism" that were really the song "Don't Worry, Be Happy!" in book form. Which is cool and all, but it's really only paying lipservice to Buddhism as a religion. If that. It's really just putting Buddha on top of a rainbow-pooping unicorn.

Which, y'know, if you're into that, knock yourself out. I just feel like religion deserves more respect than it gets, and Pier One Buddha heads are one instance I can point to and say "See! Right there! This isn't paying respect to the ideas of the Buddha! You're just going to put that next to your new flat screen TV with some cunning little like, vases shaped like fish or something! And next season, you'll get rid of it at a yardsale and replace it with the faux grecian urns that will then be in fashion! GAH!"
posted by grapefruitmoon at 9:06 AM on June 13, 2009


Don't EMBARRASS the Buddha!!!
posted by homunculus at 9:44 AM on June 13, 2009 [4 favorites]


homonculus: That may be the single greatest Buddhist teaching I have ever seen. I want to take that guy and hug him. Except that he would probably shame me.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 10:09 AM on June 13, 2009


That is indeed a great teaching. Now I want to watch some more of his talks.
posted by spinifex23 at 10:54 AM on June 13, 2009


Tibetan Monks Tell Tale of Escape From China
posted by homunculus at 8:32 PM on June 24, 2009


« Older I Was A Marine Sniper...  |  At the 53rd International La B... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments