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We love the Dalai Lama. We also love french fries.
February 22, 2010 11:15 AM   Subscribe

Why Americans Love the Dalai Lama : an insightful piece from CNN preceding his appearance tonight at 9PM EST on Larry King Live.

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama had a "low-key" meeting with President Obama this past week.

And, because you wanted to know, the Dalai Lama's thoughts on Tiger Woods.
posted by grapefruitmoon (107 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Strange that progressives are so in love with a theocrat.
posted by four panels at 11:18 AM on February 22, 2010 [22 favorites]


Even though the Dalai Lama is expected to be in Woods's home state Florida on Monday, the world's no. 1 golfer won't be able to meet the leader of the religion he promises to re-embrace, as he is due back at his sex rehabilitation clinic in Mississippi.

There's a sentence you don't read every day.
posted by brain_drain at 11:18 AM on February 22, 2010 [27 favorites]


A really nice and thoughtful theocrat, mind you.
posted by gcbv at 11:19 AM on February 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


He's just such an interesting, personable man. From the time I saw him at my university:

"People always seem to think I have some sort of mystical power where I can fix and cure things. Really? Because, see, I have this thing on my back, and if I can fix it, I'd really like to know how. Any ideas?"

(And then my stupid then-boyfriend, who has a history of forgetting he is carrying small penknives in the presence of heads of state so is forced to hide them in the bushes before going into buildings, completely forgot about the Dalai Lama's message of forgiveness and wanted to stick it to the man.)
posted by Madamina at 11:23 AM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


It seems like, in America at least, he's the spiritual leader for the more affluent celebrity buddhists and seekers. If you are Richard Gere, Sheryl Crow Brad Pitt, etc. , you may be in his presence. If you are not one of those people, not so much.
posted by Danf at 11:26 AM on February 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


Hitchens:

The greatest triumph that modern PR can offer is the transcendent success of having your words and actions judged by your reputation, rather than the other way about. The "spiritual leader" of Tibet has enjoyed this unassailable status for some time now, becoming a byword and synonym for saintly and ethereal values. Why this doesn't put people on their guard I'll never know.
posted by Joe Beese at 11:27 AM on February 22, 2010 [6 favorites]


Is he still a big homophobe?
posted by box at 11:28 AM on February 22, 2010


he describes himself, according to his Web site, as "a simple Buddhist monk"

Yes, a simple Buddhist monk . . . with a website, press office, and celebrity guest list.
posted by brain_drain at 11:33 AM on February 22, 2010 [6 favorites]


If you are Richard Gere, Sheryl Crow Brad Pitt, etc. , you may be in his presence. If you are not one of those people, not so much.

I know, it's like every time I turn on TMZ there's the Dalai Lama again. He should set a better example for people who look up to him by, say, speaking publicly, participating in panel discussions, visiting universities, and working for his causes rather than just getting hammered and passing out at another Beverly Hills party with his junk hanging out of his monk's robes.

There are plenty of valid reasons to criticize him-- isn't this one just factually inaccurate?
posted by Pickman's Next Top Model at 11:33 AM on February 22, 2010 [9 favorites]


Is he still a big homophobe?

Not sure. But this is a pretty even-handed and well-cited discussion about the larger topic of homophobia in Buddhism. Might be worth reading.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:38 AM on February 22, 2010 [5 favorites]


It seems like, in America at least, he's the spiritual leader for the more affluent celebrity buddhists and seekers. If you are Richard Gere, Sheryl Crow Brad Pitt, etc. , you may be in his presence. If you are not one of those people, not so much.

I'm not a huge fan of the Dalai Lama one way or another, but this is bullshit. I don't travel in particularly rich or famous circles, and I know three different people who have met the Dalai Lama. Two were college students, and one was a social worker. Each met him on a separate occasion, unrelated to the others.

I can't think of a single other person on this Earth who combines the level of influence and recognition that he possesses with the level of access that he offers.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 11:40 AM on February 22, 2010 [6 favorites]


I saw him around 15 years ago at the Cathedral of St John the divine in NY. Totally sold out and filled every corner of a huge space. When he entered you could feel the energy.

He also said he thought it probably would have been OK if we had been able to kill Hitler with a "laser guided super bullet." His translator had to double check that one though.
posted by shothotbot at 11:42 AM on February 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


brain_drain: "Yes, a simple Buddhist monk . . . with a website, press office, and celebrity guest list."

Never trust a spiritual leader whose glasses have tinted lenses.
posted by Joe Beese at 11:44 AM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Strange that progressives are so in love with a theocrat.

The Dalai Lama has said he would like to bring democracy to a free Tibet. I believe him. It's true that he didn't dismantle theocracy when he was on top, but that was ages 15-23. If I'd been raised since age 6 being told I was the god-king, I think I'd have been hard-pressed to realize by my early twenties that the only society I knew was a screwed-up system in need of reform.

He may never have become a proponent for democracy if the Chinese hadn't given him nothing to lose by doing so, but I'm somewhat more interested in someone's actions in our world than alternate histories.
posted by Zed at 11:45 AM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


If I had to come up with a list of aggressively dangerous homophobes, the Dalai Lama wouldn't even be in the top 50. There are so many other religious potentates and panjandrums who would fit the bill perfectly.
posted by blucevalo at 11:45 AM on February 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


...56 percent of Americans hold a favorable view of him, putting him "in the same neighborhood as other major religious figures," said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "Favorable ratings for the pope, at 59 percent, and Billy Graham, at 57 percent, are virtually identical."

Well, at least he's [cough] in good company. The homophobia accusation deserves to be explored a little; his position seems to me standard fundamentalism: homosexuality is great as long as it's celibate, since sex is only for making babies. This 1997 article demonstrates nicely the balancing act the Dalai Lama tries (and I think fails) to maintain on the issue:

During the 45-minute meeting, the Nobel peace laureate and Buddhist religious leader voiced his support for the full recognition of human rights for all people, regardless of sexual orientation. Buddhist sexual proscriptions ban homosexual sexual activity and heterosexual sex through orifices other than the vagina, including masturbation or other sexual activity with the hand. Buddhist proscriptions also forbid sex at certain times - such as during full and half moon days, the daytime, and during a wife's menstrual period or pregnancy - or near shrines or temples. Adultery is considered sexual misconduct, but the hiring of a female prostitute for penile-vaginal sex is not, unless one pays a third party to procure the person.

From a "Buddhist point of view," lesbian and gay sex "is generally considered sexual misconduct," the Dalai Lama told reporters at a press conference a day earlier. However, such proscriptions are for members of the Buddhist faith - and from "society's viewpoint," homosexual sexual relations can be "of mutual benefit, enjoyable, and harmless," according to the Dalai Lama.

"His Holiness was greatly concerned by reports made available to him regarding violence and discrimination against gay and lesbian people. His Holiness opposes violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation. He urges respect, tolerance, compassion, and the full recognition of human rights for all," said Office of Tibet spokesman Dawa Tsering in a statement issued within an hour of the meeting.


His Wikipedia page has a section about it, too:

In a 1994 interview with OUT Magazine, the Dalai Lama explained "If someone comes to me and asks whether homosexuality is okay or not, I will ask 'What is your companion's opinion?'. If you both agree, then I think I would say 'if two males or two females voluntarily agree to have mutual satisfaction without further implication of harming others, then it is okay'".[75] However, in his 1996 book Beyond Dogma, he clearly states, "A sexual act is deemed proper when the couples use the organs intended for sexual intercourse and nothing else....Homosexuality, whether it is between men or between women, is not improper in itself. What is improper is the use of organs already defined as inappropriate for sexual contact."

So, pretty much the standard confusing mess of contradiction and self-denial we see from other "traditional" religious figures, no?
posted by mediareport at 11:47 AM on February 22, 2010 [7 favorites]


I can't think of a single other person on this Earth who combines the level of influence and recognition that he possesses with the level of access that he offers.

Maybe Wil Wheaton.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:49 AM on February 22, 2010 [20 favorites]


He has also said that China has done Tibet a favor by bringing it out of its cruel feudalistic past. Saying that about one's oppressor takes a lot of character. (I'm not sure he used the word cruel, but that was the general idea...)
posted by kozad at 11:49 AM on February 22, 2010


The Dalai Lama is kind of like (the Dalai) Obama. He's good for inspirational rhetoric but when the rubber meets the road we'll have to see just what he actually does on something like theocracy or GLBT rights.
posted by DU at 11:50 AM on February 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


Ta-Da! The Theocrats!

Americans love this guy because he's seen as a sort of Underdog Regular Guy and the head of a harmless New Age-approved religion and tiny, harmless Shangri-La country taken over by big, bad, pseudo-communist, toy-poisoning, market-dominating China. It is wonderful that he works for peace and non-violence, but it also isn't as if there's any other angle he can work against the Chinese.
posted by pracowity at 11:50 AM on February 22, 2010 [5 favorites]


I always thought American love of Dalai Lama has to do with the fact that he's non-threatening - in both the sense of violence and the fact that his stated goals do not ask for US changes in status quo on the scale of asking for freedom:

"Be nice to each other" = OK!
"Feed the poor!" = I guess...
"Hey, stop your agricorps and mining corps from stomping my people" = You're just a commie ecoterrorism facist!
posted by yeloson at 11:51 AM on February 22, 2010 [7 favorites]


The Dalai Lama is kind of like (the Dalai) Obama. He's good for inspirational rhetoric but when the rubber meets the road we'll have to see just what he actually does on something like theocracy or GLBT rights.

Y'know, a healthy criticism of religious leaders is awesome, and I don't expect anything less from MetaFilter. But getting bent at the Dalai Lama about GLBT rights?! It's not his issue. It never will be his issue. Don't try to pin that on him. Man's got enough on his plate.

(Unless you were talking about Obama, in which case, I'm with you.)
posted by grapefruitmoon at 12:00 PM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


There's also a subgroup who doesn't actually care about Tibet except in that it serve as a useful excuse to justify hate on Chinese:

Back when the Olympic torch was going through SF, one of my friends Lion Dance club was doing performances for the event. The group of performers were literally attacked by American supposed "pro-Tibet" activists (Quotes on that because it's clear it's wasn't really about Tibet as much as the joy of "throwing rocks at chinks").

(Said as a Chinese American who wants China out of Tibet, and America out of Guam, Samoa, and Puerto Rico...but hey, who needs to think about context when we're talking politics?)
posted by yeloson at 12:01 PM on February 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


So, pretty much the standard confusing mess of contradiction and self-denial we see from other "traditional" religious figures, no?

Yeah, but I think a fundamental difference is that the Dalai Lama doesn't seem to actually care. He acts like he'd just assume not talk about it, but when pressed by some interviewer recites the dogma of the faith to which he subscribes (and, at least somewhat, leads). That disqualifies him from any awards for courageousness or leadership, but it does seem to put him in a slightly different camp than those who believe their religion's foremost mission includes attacking gay folks.
posted by aswego at 12:03 PM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


It seems like, in America at least, he's the spiritual leader for the more affluent celebrity buddhists and seekers. If you are Richard Gere, Sheryl Crow Brad Pitt, etc. , you may be in his presence. If you are not one of those people, not so much.

Is this your direct experience of trying to attend a teaching or meet with him?

In the town where I live (upstate NY) the Dalai Lama spent time with the (humble, working class) Tibetan refugee families who have settled here, in addition to giving the big public lectures and Buddhist teachings he is more known for. And there was no sign of any Hollywood elite during his visit here, for the record.

I know that doesn't have the snarky deliciousness some people crave, but it's nonetheless true.

Regarding the homophobia angle, it's worth noting that being a monk, or otherwise aspiring to enlightenment, for example by taking bodhisattva vows, involves celibacy (as an aspect of both equanimity - valuing all others equally - as well as asceticism), so heterosexuality is considered as much an obstacle to buddhahood as homosexuality. While it's of course true Tibetan culture historically has prejudice against homosexual practices and encourages married heterosexual couples, it's hardly alone in that regard.

Also, on preview of kozad's remark, his attitudes about the Chinese are remarkable on several fronts - in addition to acknowledging the Chinese takeover having forced needed political changes to Tibet's feudal tradition, it has taught him and other Tibetan Buddhists invaluable lessons about generating compassion for all people, including those who oppress / attack/ demean / lie about you ("your enemies are your most valuable teachers when it comes to compassion and equanimity," is the general gist).
posted by aught at 12:03 PM on February 22, 2010 [6 favorites]


He acts like he'd just assume not talk about it, but when pressed by some interviewer recites the dogma of the faith to which he subscribes

Sounds like Yusef Islam/Cat Stevens.
posted by box at 12:12 PM on February 22, 2010


I'm coming to the opinion that really pissing off the Peoples Republic is as good a reason to do anything.
posted by Artw at 12:13 PM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


He's been strangely mum speechless about Lady Gaga. He can't play cagey sage forever on this weighty matter.
posted by everichon at 12:16 PM on February 22, 2010 [6 favorites]


Also, Joe Beese: Hitchens? Really?
posted by aught at 12:21 PM on February 22, 2010


He's been strangely mum speechless about Lady Gaga. He can't play cagey sage forever on this weighty matter.

He's had time to work on his poker face.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:23 PM on February 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Personally, I just like how happy he always seems, especially in the face of being the leader of a tiny country that has been fought over for centuries.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:25 PM on February 22, 2010


That disqualifies him from any awards for courageousness or leadership

I think that's a fair characterization of my point. He's certainly the least offensive of the fundamentalists opposed to homosexual love, as others have pointed out above.
posted by mediareport at 12:25 PM on February 22, 2010


That Christopher Hitchens, he certainly is a contrarian!
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 12:26 PM on February 22, 2010 [7 favorites]


Interestingly enough, my parents are about as rabidly anti-PRC as you can get (being "rusticated" and seeing relatives commit suicide during the Cultural Revolution will do that), but they don't support Free Tibet either. They know the CCP and PLA have treated Tibetans like shit, but think Tibet has historically been a part of China and should remain so. Their ideal situation would be a democratic government that treated Tibet fairly, but with Tibet still being an official part of China.

I honestly don't really know enough about the history to judge for myself, though I tend to fall on the Free Tibet side. But I just wanted to throw that data point out there.
posted by kmz at 12:26 PM on February 22, 2010


So, pretty much the standard confusing mess of contradiction and self-denial we see from other "traditional" religious figures, no?

In fairness, you could have also excerpted the beginning of the very paragraph you posted:

"In 1997 he explained that the basis of that teaching was unknown to him and that he at least had some "willingness to consider the possibility that some of the teachings may be specific to a particular cultural and historic context" while reiterating the unacceptable nature saying, "Buddhist sexual proscriptions ban homosexual activity and heterosexual sex through orifices other than the vagina, including masturbation or other sexual activity with the hand... From a Buddhist point of view, lesbian and gay sex is generally considered sexual misconduct"

Fundamentalist as he may be on GLBT rights, at least he recognizes that: 1) his religion's restrictions only apply to members of his own religion; and 2) these particular rules might be wrong or inapplicable today. This for me is a refreshing change from our American-style fundies who disclaim the very idea of fallibility and want their wacky rules to also apply to the rest of us. Still not much comfort for GLBT Tibetan Buddhists, I guess.
posted by r_nebblesworthII at 12:29 PM on February 22, 2010 [5 favorites]


Is he still a big homophobe?

There's a huge difference between proscribing a behavior for adherents of a religion and suggesting that people who engage in such a behavior should be systemically persecuted, and you should probably just stop using the word "homophobe" until you get a grip on that.
posted by namespan at 12:34 PM on February 22, 2010 [5 favorites]


I think his position on homosexuality makes sense given that, to a monk, all sex is worldly and to be avoided. In that light, homosexuality is not special, just another part of the human condition not to fall prey to (like every other aspect of human sexuality).
From a modern, western, liberal view, acceptance of homosexuality is seen as a form of enlightenment. From a Buddhist perspective, all people are more or less the same in terms of how you interact with them, so no special recognition of homosexuality is required.
posted by doctor_negative at 12:35 PM on February 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Hitchens? Really?

If there's something about Hitchens' critiques that you feel is unfair, please let us know. But *shuffles through old Dalai Lama bookmarks* I liked this New Yorker piece from a couple of years ago for what it says about the man's difficult position halfway between Western progressivism (including gay rights) and the old goal of simple Tibetan independence.
posted by mediareport at 12:39 PM on February 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


aught: "Also, Joe Beese: Hitchens? Really?"

Is there an actual argument to follow?
posted by Joe Beese at 12:39 PM on February 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


But getting bent at the Dalai Lama about GLBT rights?! It's not his issue. It never will be his issue.

Yes. The Dalai Lama's reason for existence is to lead sentient beings to enlightenment, as the (according to Tibetan Buddhism) literal embodiment of the concept of compassion. Everything that isn't meditating many hours a day, giving away your material possessions and studying the Dharma is pretty much an obstacle to escaping the suffering of rebirth and worldly existence, which is the point of Tibetan Buddhism.

So while having gay sex can get in the way of achieving nirvana, so can getting drunk, eating meat, lying, killing a spider, watching tv, gossiping about jerks, or taking a donut from the break room at work that wasn't specifically offered to you. The bar of buddhahood is pretty high and it's probably a given within Tibetan Buddhism that most of us are going to do some or all of these things repeatedly and end up having to take another run at being karmically better the next rebirth, or next million rebirths.)
posted by aught at 12:41 PM on February 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


So he's against homosexual behavior, but "opposes violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation." I don't see these as remotely evil. I'm against fake tans, but still have friends who have them.

Must everyone publicly agree that everyone else's behavior is okey dokey?

The guy preaches a message of tolerance and peace, so I like him. He could just as easily preach revolution against the Chinese. I'd still like him, but not as much.
posted by coolguymichael at 12:42 PM on February 22, 2010


Fundamentalist as he may be on GLBT rights, at least he recognizes that: 1) his religion's restrictions only apply to members of his own religion

According to my tenuous understanding of Buddhism, Buddhists don't even care that much about whether other Buddhists follow certain tenets, and the Buddha himself told people that if they didn't like something he said, just ignore it. But I don't have any source on that and would love to be set straight if it is just flat-out wrong.
posted by ekroh at 12:44 PM on February 22, 2010


So while having gay sex can get in the way of achieving nirvana, so can getting drunk, eating meat, lying, killing a spider, watching tv, gossiping about jerks, or taking a donut from the break room at work that wasn't specifically offered to you.

As far as I know, His Holiness does only one of these things. Actually I don't know if he watches TV or not.
posted by The Bellman at 12:50 PM on February 22, 2010


ekroh: the real sentiment is more like, after having tested some aspect of Buddhist belief or practice against one's own very considered opinion (presumably having mediated and thought about something very seriously), it seems wrong, then don't feel bound by it. It's more a sense of having carefully proved some tenet wrong to oneself than not "liking" it.
posted by aught at 12:51 PM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thanks, aught. That's a much less flippant way of putting it.
posted by ekroh at 12:53 PM on February 22, 2010


aught: "Also, Joe Beese: Hitchens? Really?"

Hitchens is a (self-described) contrarian. His favorite targets are often people who are much-loved, and it's impossible to avoid the conclusion that they are his favorite targets because they are much-loved. We need contrarians, and I've got no flag to wave for Mother Theresa or the Dalai Lama, but ultimately, this kind of reactive contrarianism doesn't amount to a serious worldview. It is an interesting intellectual game, mainly.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 12:56 PM on February 22, 2010


I don't understand people being angry at the Dalai Lama. He was placed into a position not of his choosing at a very young age, had his entire country taken away from him, and theocrat or not is the de facto and de jure leader for a group of people who have little hope for the future of their society. I think he's done as well as anyone could've done in his position.
posted by 1adam12 at 12:59 PM on February 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


I won't read anything that calls the Dalai Lama the "leader of Buddhism". He's the leader of the Gelugpa lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, and also a political figure in the Tibetan exile community. He's an intelligent man, and I think he's led an essentially saintly life, but he doesn't have any influence on what Buddhists are "supposed" to think, and the article shouldn't be set up that way. It empowers lying bastards like Christopher Hitchens and takes the voice away from ordinary people.
posted by shii at 1:02 PM on February 22, 2010 [8 favorites]


The Bellman: yes, the eating meat controversy, which gets American vegetarians as worked up as the gay rights issue does GLBT activists. The official line is that the Dalai Lama has some disorder that makes him ill if he tries to get all his protein from beans and rice, which you can either take at face value or not. (Almost all Americans interested in Buddhism that I know would be a lot happier if the Dalai Lama ate vegetarian, of course.) And of course Tibetans as a people eat meat like crazy (Tibet not exactly being a great place to grow green vegetables), so there's that "disappointment" as well to American lefty standards.

Some of the Tibetan monks I have met have joked about watching a little American tv now and then, often in conjunction with visiting relatives settled in the U.S. as refugees. Strangely they seem to get introduced to tv via nature documentaries, which I suppose with carnivores hunting prey on the savanna and penguins dying on melting ice floes and so on, makes an apt illustration of the intrinsic suffering of all living creatures.

I would be surprised if the Dalai Lama has not seen some tv, actually, in the name of learning about other cultures or popular science, which he has taken some efforts to get a handle on. I guess the "bad" part is relying on tv for idle entertainment when you could be meditating and gaining wisdom or fostering compassion.
posted by aught at 1:04 PM on February 22, 2010


I listened to Obama speak at a peace rally (pre-election), he was just another politician, same old, same old. On the other hand, I attended two days of lectures by the Dalai Lama and, even though I listening through an interpreter most of the time, I was transfixed. He's a powerful individual for reason I don't think I could come close to understanding or explaining.
posted by HuronBob at 1:08 PM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I really am having a hard time swallowing "peaceful non violent religious leader" being objectionable because he hasn't come out specifically in favor of gay rights.

Maybe he hasn't broached every single issue, but the MeFi blinders have gotten a bit much for me. I think it's time for a break.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 1:14 PM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


game warden to the events rhino: "Hitchens is a (self-described) contrarian. His favorite targets are often people who are much-loved, and it's impossible to avoid the conclusion that they are his favorite targets because they are much-loved."

That $180,000 annual stipend from the CIA might not have helped either.
posted by Joe Beese at 1:17 PM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't understand people being angry at the Dalai Lama.

I'm not angry, if that was directed to me. I just try to be clear-eyed about people who are held up as spiritual leaders. grapefruitmoon may see that as wearing "blinders" but that doesn't make any sense to me at all.
posted by mediareport at 1:17 PM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've never seen any claim about the Dalai Lama having any difficulties with any kind of protein. I have read an interview in which he said that he ate whatever was offered to him, but preferred eating vegetarian.

Vegetarianism has been a part of some specific monastic traditions in Buddhism, but it has never been any sort of universal Buddhist tenet. The story of the Buddha's death involves food poisoning (really); there's an ongoing argument about whether his last meal was meat, but no part of the argument is that the Buddha didn't eat meat.

In one Zen story, an emperor, as a prank, invited a monk who was in a vegetarian order to dinner, and served all meat. The monk ate it without comment.
posted by Zed at 1:19 PM on February 22, 2010


Gunga galunga... gunga, gunga-lagunga.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:19 PM on February 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


game warden to the events rhino: "His favorite targets are often people who are much-loved, and it's impossible to avoid the conclusion that they are his favorite targets because they are much-loved."

He is a jerk, and his advocacy for atheism often makes me ashamed to be an atheist. But his choice to criticize the beloved religious leaders rather than the more controversial ones is one of his most admirable, and honest, decisions. He would have an easier time convincing people if he picked easier targets, but does better service to the atheist argument - and to the state of the argument overall - by tilting at the hard ones.
posted by idiopath at 1:23 PM on February 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


idiopath: I'm trying to navigate this here. You're saying terrible A person B is criticizing beloved famous C person D, and this is a good argument for A and against B.

So, isn't this the same as applauding Rush Limbaugh for criticizing Obama, and considering this a good argument for conservatism?
posted by shii at 1:29 PM on February 22, 2010


grapefruitmoon's account is disabled now.
posted by Babblesort at 1:30 PM on February 22, 2010


1adam12: I don't understand people being angry at the Dalai Lama. He was placed into a position not of his choosing at a very young age, had his entire country taken away from him, and theocrat or not is the de facto and de jure leader for a group of people who have little hope for the future of their society. I think he's done as well as anyone could've done in his position.

Yeah, because they were much better off as feudal slaves before China invaded.

De-facto and de-jure leader of whom? I'm pretty sure nobody elected him, and that many Tibetans who actually live in Tibet would not acknowledge him as their leader. His is not the only sect of Buddhism in Tibet, and the seats of his predecessors were secured not by merit of enlightenment but by bloody warfare against rival sects. Curious, in that context, that he presents himself as the ultimate man of peace.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 1:35 PM on February 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


aught & zed (I love that's it's aught and zed): I hope you weren't reading my comment as criticism. For obscure reasons I know a whole bunch Tibetans living in the US (it's a very tight-knit community in NYC), all of whom are Buddhists and all but one of whom eat meat -- and the one who doesn't just doesn't like it. They universally say that Tibetans have to eat meat for their health. Googling the question on the Dalai Lama reveals the story that a health issue makes it impossible for him to be vegetarian, though he would like to be and admires them. I have no dog in that fight at all. I'm not a vegetarian, I don't specially admire vegetarians, and I don't care one way or the other whether the Dalai Lama eats meat or not. I just think it's a funny thing to tweak certain ill-informed American "Buddhists" about.
posted by The Bellman at 1:37 PM on February 22, 2010


If you dissed on Rush for picking on Obama, saying it was only because Obama is popular and Rush is just being contrarian, I would probably call you a fanboy (I say this as a person who hates Rush and voted for Obama).

Hitchens has a fairly consistently applied anti-religious argument. The fact that he goes after the religious leaders that people tend to respect is not a failing on his part, on the contrary it is one of the few things I respect about him.
posted by idiopath at 1:38 PM on February 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


I also think ragging on the Dalai Lama about gay rights is pretty lame. Even right here in this thread, quotes from him have been posted that are hundreds of times more compassionate and open-minded on the subject than anything that has come out of the mouths of any of the last several Popes. (particularly the current one.) Given a choice of theocrats to "give a pass" to for being theocrats, the Dalai Lama is probably the only one I'd pick.

(As for Buddhism and vegetarianism - well, if you stick to the original stories of the life of the Buddha himself, you really should only be eating food donated to your begging bowl by compassionate strangers... My point being that nitpicky "don't do this or that" lists of moral rules that encrust onto a religion over the course of centuries generally have little or nothing to do with the central gist and worth of the religion itself. )
posted by dnash at 1:42 PM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've never seen any claim about the Dalai Lama having any difficulties with any kind of protein.

Zed: For what it's worth, this is how I have heard the Dalai Lama himself explain it twice when asked about it during the Q&A part of public lectures I've attended -- that he tried for some unspecified time when he was a younger man to eat strictly vegetarian but got ill, and then his Tibetan doctors told him that he had to supplement his diet with some meat now and again. He still gets treated occasionally for various digestive complains, it seems, if one reads between the lines of the news articles about his hospital visits.

All the other Tibetan monks I have met have been strictly vegetarian, for additional data points, but few or none of the Tibetan lay people I've met are.

You're right, of course, that the historical Buddha was himself not vegetarian. I've also heard the story that it was meat, specifically spoiled pork, that put him on his death bed.

I think the arguments (by both Western students I know and the Tibetan teachers) are more that being a vegetarian is a simple way to greatly reduce the suffering of sentient beings (in that none need to be killed for your sustenance) rather than that one must follow the example of the historical Buddha (who, being an enlightened being already, was beyond needing to watch his karmic p's and q's for the sake of escaping samsara).
posted by aught at 1:48 PM on February 22, 2010


aught: "Also, Joe Beese: Hitchens? Really?"
Is there an actual argument to follow?

Obviously not one I am capable of articulating very well, beyond a general, "I'm so tired of Hitchens' various cranky rants and raves, and a decade-old one about the Dalai Lama particularly makes my ass tired." So, sorry for not meeting the Mefi standards of debate on this point. (No hamburger there, in case the tone is ambiguous over plaintext.)
posted by aught at 1:59 PM on February 22, 2010


(Said as a Chinese American who wants China out of Tibet, and America out of Guam, Samoa, and Puerto Rico...but hey, who needs to think about context when we're talking politics?)

It's not all that clear that the Guamese, Samoans, and Puerto Ricans are being forced to stay in the U.S. In the latest referendum in Puerto Rico on the independence question and only 2.5% wanted complete independence from the U.S. Lots of people wanted statehood, but a majority wanted "no change"

Also, with the gay stuff: What religions are pro gay in the first place? the Raelians? I don't think criticizing a religious leader for saying being gay is against his religion makes too much sense unless you are going to call out pretty much all religion everywhere (which Hitchens is obviously trying to do)
posted by delmoi at 2:11 PM on February 22, 2010


This (paraphrased) quote from the Buddha was custom made for Metafilter:

"People with opinions just go around bothering each other."
posted by crazylegs at 2:36 PM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


> Almost all Americans interested in Buddhism that I know would be a lot happier if the Dalai Lama ate vegetarian, of course.

This is an excellent reason for him to continue to eat meat. Many "Americans interested in Buddhism" are extremely annoying people who know nothing about the Dalai Lama or Tibet except that he's a cool dude and Tibet should be Free, man! (I personally think Tibet should be free, as should all people everywhere, which does not involve being ruled by the Dalai Lama or anyone else.)

I frankly don't understand the level of reverence directed at the DL; he's clearly a charismatic guy, and impressive in many respects, but that does not explain the eagerness of otherwise terminally skeptical MeFites who would normally go off on a public figure for not signing every element of the Progressive Creed on the dotted line to give him a pass because, hey, he's the Dalai Lama!

> He's a powerful individual for reason I don't think I could come close to understanding or explaining.

This is true of all sorts of charismatic leaders that I don't think you'd feel the same warmth about. Stalin, for example, not to get all Godwin on the thread.
posted by languagehat at 2:36 PM on February 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


grapefruitmoon's account is disabled now.

I think that had more to do with the reception to the odd reaction to this post than anything else, Babblesort.
posted by mediareport at 2:41 PM on February 22, 2010


Yarg. minus "the reception to"
posted by mediareport at 2:42 PM on February 22, 2010


Didn't the Dalai Lama lift the peace-and-love shtick he delivers to gullible roundeyes from someone else? (John Lennon perhaps?)
posted by acb at 2:45 PM on February 22, 2010


acb: "Didn't the Dalai Lama lift the peace-and-love shtick he delivers to gullible roundeyes from someone else? (John Lennon perhaps?)"

As one wag observed regarding The Beatles consulting the Maharishi: If they had consulted Jesus, He'd have told them to give all their money away.
posted by Joe Beese at 2:53 PM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


ekroh: According to my tenuous understanding of Buddhism [...] Buddha himself told people that if they didn't like something he said, just ignore it. But I don't have any source on that and would love to be set straight if it is just flat-out wrong.

You're thinking of the Kalama Sutta. From the introduction in the link:
Traditions are not to be followed simply because they are traditions. Reports (such as historical accounts or news) are not to be followed simply because the source seems reliable. One's own preferences are not to be followed simply because they seem logical or resonate with one's feelings. Instead, any view or belief must be tested by the results it yields when put into practice; and — to guard against the possibility of any bias or limitations in one's understanding of those results — they must further be checked against the experience of people who are wise.
posted by desjardins at 3:07 PM on February 22, 2010


languagehat, I should point out that having an interest in and learning about Buddhism doesn't necessitate having an opinion about or even knowing about the Dalai Lama or Tibet.
posted by ekroh at 3:07 PM on February 22, 2010


grapefruitmoon's account is disabled now.

I think that had more to do with the reception to the odd reaction to this post than anything else, Babblesort.


Except the chronology doesn't fit: The last comment there is dated Feb 21, while this and several other posts were made Feb 22 (~17hr later). Color me completely baffled & dismayed -- I generally liked grapefruitmoon's contributions, so I'm hoping this is a short-term randomish glitch..
posted by Tuesday After Lunch at 3:47 PM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thanks, desjardins. Looks like an interesting read.
posted by ekroh at 3:51 PM on February 22, 2010


I'm not going to post her twitter username here, as it differs from her mefi username, but she's made it clear there that it was because of this thread.
posted by desjardins at 3:59 PM on February 22, 2010


> languagehat, I should point out that having an interest in and learning about Buddhism doesn't necessitate having an opinion about or even knowing about the Dalai Lama or Tibet.

Of course! I know people who are seriously interested in Buddhism, and I have no problem with that. I'm talking about the faddists, and surely you're aware of them.
posted by languagehat at 4:12 PM on February 22, 2010


This is true of all sorts of charismatic leaders that I don't think you'd feel the same warmth about. Stalin, for example, not to get all Godwin on the thread.

Said he, getting all Godwin on the thread.
posted by The Bellman at 4:13 PM on February 22, 2010


she's made it clear there that it was because of this thread.

Well, she had two in a row go not quite as she planned, but I hope it is just a break.
posted by mediareport at 4:24 PM on February 22, 2010


There are many Americans who feel the same need for a religious figure to look up to as the millions of Catholics and Evangelicals do but grew up too knowledgeable about their leaders and their religion for the Pope or Billy Graham to be able to fill that role for them. With a religion as exotic as Buddhism, it's easy to take the good stuff (and there is a lot of good stuff, like mindfulness meditation, that doesn't exist in Western religions) and ignore the bad. And if you learn from a teacher who already took the good and left the bad, you don't even know about the bad. The news doesn't show many stories of Buddhists behaving badly.

The Dalai Lama fills the yearning for a religious leader that doesn't carry the baggage that Christian and Jewish and Muslim leaders do for Westerners.

And he's a interesting man, intelligent, thoughtful, curious -- and a sense of humor! How often do you get that in a religious leader of that caliber?

I think it's dangerous the way people look at him as if he is somehow better than a human being. I'm sure I'd disagree with him on a lot of issues if we sat down and talked. But as far as religious leaders go, he's probably about as good as it gets.

/atheist
posted by callmejay at 4:27 PM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm talking about the faddists, and surely you're aware of them.

Yeah, but I can't say I personally know anyone who fits the description.
posted by ekroh at 4:30 PM on February 22, 2010


"People with opinions just go around bothering each other."

That's what you think. *poke* *poke* *poke*
posted by zippy at 4:32 PM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


desjardins: "... she's made it clear there that it was because of this thread."

I was sorry to learn of the disabling, and I too hope it's short-lived, but if this thread was all it took, it's a miracle she lasted here as long as she did.
posted by Joe Beese at 4:36 PM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


So, I'm on the first tee with him. I give him the driver, he hauls off and whacks one- big hitter, the Lama- long, into a ten-thousand foot crevice, right at the base of this glacier. And do you know what the Lama says? "Gunga galunga...gunga- gunga lagunga." So we finish the eighteenth and he's gonna stiff me. And I say, "Hey, Lama, hey, how about a little something, you know, for the effort, you know?" And he says, "Oh, uh, there won't be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness." So I got that goin' for me, which is nice.
posted by njbradburn at 4:36 PM on February 22, 2010


I think people are being a bit harsh on the dalai lama, but as Shii mentioned above, I think it's really important to highlight that Buddhism is kinda like Christianity, in that in encompasses a huge range of beliefs and belief system under one name, in the same way that Christianity includes catholicism, protestantism, evangelical prosperityism and mormonism, so too does Buddhism - and to call the Dalai Lama the "leader of Buddhism" is like calling the Pope the leader of Christianity.

It's an unfortunate ignorance that I think leads to a lot of disappointment from the more Japanese-influenced devotees of 'western' buddhism, who would find Buddhism as its practiced by many people in southern Asian countries virtually unrecognisable, if not repugnant (I'm not saying it is, it's just very different).
posted by smoke at 4:39 PM on February 22, 2010


I was almost run over by the Dalai Lama.

I was a grad student at Brandeis ('96 - '98) and I was walking from the, then, student union to my destination downhill. The area was taped off so he could have a big send-off, and as I walked, I found myself inside the taped off area.

The tape forced me off the curb and into the road, but I saw ahead that the tape ended and I could get back up on the curb. Lo and behold, it was time for him to leave, as I turned to see his limo careening for me, I had no time to either reach the end of the tape or step over it. His limo didn't slow, but sped up as if I wasn't there.

So I stepped up onto the curb stretching the tape and watching the Dalai Lama's limo fender miss me by inches.

I had no idea 'his holiness' was leaving at that exact moment as I generally didn't care he was there. The tape had been up all day and I was just walking around it.
posted by CarlRossi at 4:53 PM on February 22, 2010


When I was in college, a friend of mine was walking through our Asian art museum and ran into a group of people leading the Dalai Lama on a tour. The Dalai Lama invited my friend to join them, and he did. It was very nice.
posted by acrasis at 5:03 PM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Holy hell, and I thought Metafilter was hard on Obama.

I wasn't aware everyone had such a thorough questionnaire that ran through their heads before they allow themselves to respect public figures. The Dalai Lama has spent a tremendous amount of time and effort promoting pretty basic human values in an approachable and open manner. He's served as a very visible and positive representation of a philosophy many Westerners don't fully understand, and unlike the vast majority of world religious leaders he has left his religions' weird sexual and tribal hang-ups on the margins while emphasizing kindness and respect for life.

I strongly support gay rights, like just about everyone else on this site, but seriously? I don't give a shit about the Dalai Lama's indifference to homosexuallity, not when there are plenty of other individuals out there outright hostile to it.

The Dalai Lama shouldn't be held up as a saint, but he shouldn't be judged so harshly for not being one either.
posted by billypilgrim at 5:11 PM on February 22, 2010 [13 favorites]


I find the DL a fascinating figure in large part because he sits at the intersection of so many Western fetishes, fixations, and ignorant fantasies. He's a sort of substitute public stand-in for a buddhist Pope to most of the people in the US, largely, I suspect, because the core beliefs of buddhism are incomprehensibly exotic to a people who think in deist terms, and the old refrain of faux-inclusion is always to talk about Jesus, the Buddha, Allah, etcetera, as if they're essentially interchangeable godheads. We in the West suffer from a language problem, reared from our youth with a predominant model of how a religion (or philosophy) is meant to work, so we try to equalize comparative belief systems by just slotting alternates into the old familiar roles and treating things as different flavors of the same way of expressing our experience of the divine or secularly-transcendent.

I've had some interesting conversations with a pastor friend of mine, standing in as best I can for the buddhist side (in the interests of full disclosure, I've studied the dharma for more than half my life, but I am not a buddhist), and it's shocking, really, what foolish things most people believe about the philosophy and practice of buddhism. Compassion's gotta rule, though, and it's not their fault, so you can just point out the flaws and the flat-out wrong parts (like the difference between revering the Buddha and worshipping the Buddha as a god figure) and the fact that the practice is as broad and differentiated as any system followed by millions of people in different cultures. The tendency of Westerners to think of the DL as head of the religion is as strange as it would be if people emerged from some hidden valley in Asia and decided that the senior pastor in some local Presbyterian synod was the head of christianity because he was the first well-spoken representative of the faith they'd met.

It's not that he's not a well-spoken, engaging, and wise man. It's just...well, we're just a culture of raving starfuckers, I'm sad to say, and we can't grasp a religion that doesn't require celebrity and spiritual exceptionalism in quite the same way ours does. If you read the Dhammapada with humility, precision, and curiosity, it's pretty clear who the most important figure in buddhism is—you are. I don't mean that in the sense of the ego, or with the puffery of smug realization, either. When you are right there, where you are, in the moment and only the moment you're in, and you're awake, you are the Buddha, or a buddha, to be more precise. The DL says that, all the time, in the finer detail of his talks, but we don't want to hear that in the West. We want things to be harder, and a struggle, and more like what our own dominant faith taught us to believe, so we reach out for intercession from magical men.

On the other side of things, we've got the exotic fetish crowd, who are attracted to the spicy alienness of the DL and our vaunted vision of the mysterious truth on the other side of the world, and the DL really titillates their lust for the not-Western in his combination of unfamiliarity and genuine warmth. That's so pervasive in Western observances of buddhism. When we adopt buddhism, we don't absorb it, we import it, and we don't let it conform to our own culture, and express it in our own language—we have this awkward reverence for the "purity" of the tradition we adopt that's not found in the locally-practiced flavors of the faith. If you look at buddhism in different regions of China, or in Bhutan, or Vietnam, or India, you find variants on the practice that represent a hybridization of the trappings of buddhism compatible with the local culture, while the essence is observed, fairly consistently, across broader differences than one would think could be bridged.

Heck, look at christianity, and how it's practiced, from Eastern Rites to Coptic to midwestern Lutheran to the megachurch fundamentalists. There's a melding there that's rare in the Western embrace of buddhism—just look at the places you might go to buy altar goods, and you're not going to see a Westernized Buddha, sitting on a Bertoia chair in sweat pants. You're not going to hear mantras rendered in english, or buddhist music written in the Western classical canon. Too many Western buddhists look down their noses at the very notion of that, and get caught up in the ironic desire to be seen as reverent and observant. I think much of that comes from our bred-in sense of shame, and the peculiar leftovers we find in ourselves when we realize that the religion we were reared in does not feed us. We want to cast aside the false, which we see in our traditions, in favor of the truth that looks so lush and beautiful when it's resplendent in saffron robes and chanted incomprehensibly over the sound of bells, and yet, that's a bias that undermines real understanding, because it's all tied up in the notions of original sin and shame that just don't apply to buddhist practice.

As all this goes on, the DL becomes a substitute, a slotted-in replacement for something that's failed us, his genuine wisdom notwithstanding, while we ignore people in our own cultural sphere who are saying exactly what he says, in ways that we might understand better, because it's our native tongue. I'm a long-time advocate of Fred Rogers, who I think was a real Western boddhisatva, full of love and kindness, compassion and understanding, and pure, unashamed joy, but he doesn't have that exotic cachet, so he doesn't have the same fidelity of adherents that the DL has. Even Pema Chödrön, who would be the first to admit that she's no magical person, speaks with familiarity to ears that grew up hearing english spoken and sitting in uncomfortable church pews, but her followers number a fraction of the DL's.

None of this should take away from what good the Dalai Lama has done, and continues to do, but you have to wonder why people who are choosing a path of being awake still manage to stumble over wise men and women in their own culture on their way to Mecca, as it were. I wish people would slow down a bit on their pilgrimages to look around and see if maybe, just maybe, there's already something of the buddha nature in the world they already inhabit, instead of trying so hard, and so conspicuously, to purge what they don't like about themselves and their cultural history.

When I was younger, the things the DL says about homosexuals really bothered me, and I'd think angry thoughts about him and look for reasons to dislike him and his history, but that's just wrong, and just a response that comes from hurt, and from disillusionment. In time, I've come to reflect on what he says, and it's pretty clear to me that it's hard for someone who comes from a culture that celebrates such rigid, uncomplicated gender roles to understand what I know from personal experience—that, though I am biologically male, I carry the essence of masculinity and femininity in my character, and being with someone else like myself wouldn't be the problem of imbalance that he sees. Just as it took me twenty years of study to understand concepts, like the inseparability of light and dark, that a child in Bhutan would understand as second nature, I can see the Dalai Lama as just being wrong on that subject.

It doesn't render his wisdom less wise, or his compassion less worthy, and for me, it's one of those special moments when something that frustrates and confuses me does what the Buddha wanted to do all along, which is to wake me up, and strip away the baggage of my past and my ego and the weight of wanting to be something I'm not, even if it's just a brief flash of transcendence I experience before I get bogged down again. Too many of us don't understand what "kill the buddha" really means, which is that it isn't about the man, or the office, or the celebrity—it's the surrender to reflection and presence, and to find the wisdom to accept ourselves as ourselves and still heed the wake up call when it comes, no matter who's ringing the bell.
posted by sonascope at 5:43 PM on February 22, 2010 [27 favorites]


I am pressing that favorite button for billypilgrim as hard as I possibly can.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:46 PM on February 22, 2010


I suspect, because the core beliefs of buddhism are incomprehensibly exotic to a people who think in deist terms

Respectfully, the fact you think Buddhism precludes deism suggests to me that you need to study it some more.
posted by smoke at 6:17 PM on February 22, 2010


I don't think buddhism precludes deism at all, and never said as much. However, deism, and a very specific kind of deism, is absolutely inseparable from christianity or the other Abrahamic traditions, for example, whereas the deist observances in buddhism tend to be connected to the culture in which that rendition of buddhism is practiced. At its core, buddhism tends towards agnosticism—in the pali canon, the Buddha supposedly said "Conjecture about [the origin, etc., of] the world is an unconjecturable that is not to be conjectured about, that would bring madness & vexation to anyone who conjectured about it," which doesn't define a particularly deist path.

My point is not that buddhism is not deist, but that, to people reared to believe in a central, omnipresent god, it takes a major leap of understanding to accept a non-deist (neither atheist nor deist in the same way saying "I don't believe" is not the same as saying "I disbelieve") philosophy and thus many will just substitute an important figure for that godhead and stop there.
posted by sonascope at 6:37 PM on February 22, 2010 [2 favorites]


Same reason they love the Na'vi.

Deluded fantasies of Bambiland
posted by HTuttle at 7:06 PM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


sonascope, thanks for such thoughtful comments.

I find that people who have a strong faith in God are usually completely flummoxed when I tell them that God's existence (or lack thereof) just doesn't matter to me at all.
posted by desjardins at 7:14 PM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


hrm, I have exactly 108 contacts, if I add sonascope it will be 109.
posted by desjardins at 7:15 PM on February 22, 2010


hrm, I have exactly 108 contacts, if I add sonascope it will be 109.
Pushing someone off the island to make room isn't the most compassionate thing ever.
posted by shothotbot at 7:33 PM on February 22, 2010


However, deism, and a very specific kind of deism, is absolutely inseparable from christianity or the other Abrahamic traditions, for example, whereas the deist observances in Buddhism tend to be connected to the culture in which that rendition of Buddhism is practiced.

I see where you're coming from, but I disagree. You could argue that exact sentence with the religions reversed (a very specific kind of deism is inseparable from types of Buddhism. Christian beliefs are tide to cultural specifities) and still make a credible argument.

Also, talking about the "core" of Buddhism I think is a dangerous game to play; you could ask a hundred people what the core of Buddhism (or Christianity) is and get fifty different answers. Which is more valid?

It sounds like your experience of Buddhism has been primarily through an Indian-based interpretation - which is fine and valid, however I'm very reluctant to make claims about a religion with around 250 million adherents, who interpret and live it in (very) different ways.

I just feel like you're making some pretty sweeping generalisations about Buddhism, westerners, christianity and religious practitioners and religious discourse, when they all contain a multitude of viewpoints, motivations, and contradictions - which is part of the 'problem' (if indeed, there is a problem) with how people think about the Dalai Lama and Buddhism already.
posted by smoke at 7:34 PM on February 22, 2010


Metafilter: we're just a culture of raving starfuckers
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 8:21 PM on February 22, 2010


You could argue that exact sentence with the religions reversed (a very specific kind of deism is inseparable from types of Buddhism. Christian beliefs are tide to cultural specifities) and still make a credible argument.

I'd be curious to know of a single strain of mainstream christianity that is not deist at its core—one could make an argument that Unitarian-Universalism has its origins in christianity, but they're really a separate movement at this point. I agree that there's not really a single "core" of buddhist thought per se, but there is an axis of reasonably consistent practice that can be observed in a majority of schools, and that does not include a canonical, fixed, and cross-cultural and universal deity. A form of christianity derived from the Bible requires some pretty convoluted reasoning to escape the in-built deist bias, though, and it's the relative difference that I'm talking about, not a hypothetical based on a specific strain of buddhism. Of course there are natively-deist buddhist schools, but I'm talking about the culturally-relative differences in understanding that exist when people raised in a monotheistic, salvation-based, eschatological religion take on one that allows for uncertainty over the nature and/or existence of a god.

I'm really not talking about deism at all, though you've chosen to publically school me on this subject and point out my presumed ignorance and interpretive bias (my experience is primarily in Tibetan, Thai, and Vietnamese schools of thought, for the record) without addressing my actual point, which is that there's a fundamental cultural gap between our culture and one we presume to adopt without having been reared in that culture. What's funny about your continued critique of my response is that if you read what you posted at 7:39 pm and what I was writing at the same time, without being able to see your response, is that we both said very similar things.

I'd be interested to know how one could discuss comparative religion on a large scale without "sweeping" generalizations, and without actually knowing each and every individual practitioner of that religion. Is it really impossible to have a discussion without that kind of reductive and defensive tautology?

Frankly, I read the FPP and sat and wrote 2832 words that honestly reflect my off-the-cuff take on the subject, which as I said, is fascinating to me, and your 19 word, one-sentence response was to say ("respectfully") that I don't know what I'm talking about. Should I perhaps sit here, surrounded by stacks of books and citations for days on end and write a hundred page dissertation with elaborate footnotes? Would you respond in kind, or could you just discuss things without falling back to the old dodge of crying "generalization?"

You define a world where discourse is impossible. Enjoy your place in it.

As for myself, I'm happier to talk about these things. That's how I learn.
posted by sonascope at 8:56 PM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sonascope, I agree wholeheartedly that we're coming from the same place here, in that we agree that (western) reactions to the Dalai Lama specifically and Buddhism in general are coming largely from a position of ignorance and built-in cultural discourse that does not share its origins with the religion as widely practiced. We're definitely on the same page there.

My only disagreement with you is in your haste to say "Christianity is x", "Buddhism is y", etc. I appreciate your point about having to make a generalisation at some point but there is a lot of numbers between 1 and 250 000 000, and personally speaking would have felt more comfortable if you had said "catholicism is x" etc. And avoid saying anything about how 'westerners' believe things etc. The characterisation of God in the many different christian beliefs is divergent enough in my opinion to render Abrahamic generalisations pretty sketchy - and vice versa with Buddhism, but I recognise it's a judgment call. 3000 words or 30 doesn't really change that.

I'm genuinely sorry if I've offended or upset you; it certainly wasn't my intention. I respect your experience with Buddhism and what your thoughts on this subject are.
posted by smoke at 9:51 PM on February 22, 2010


Christianity is any set of beliefs which includes the statement that Jesus Christ existed and was the son of God.

Seems simple and unassailable to me. It's not "hasty" to assert Christianity is deist, it's obvious. The characterization of God may differ but there is always a characterization of God.
posted by mek at 11:10 PM on February 22, 2010


Many "Americans interested in Buddhism" are extremely annoying people who know nothing about the Dalai Lama or Tibet except that he's a cool dude and Tibet should be Free, man!

Ah, the blanket generalizations always help discussions like this.
posted by aught at 4:56 AM on February 23, 2010


Also, talking about the "core" of Buddhism I think is a dangerous game to play; you could ask a hundred people what the core of Buddhism (or Christianity) is and get fifty different answers.

Wouldn't they all point to the Four Noble Truths? Are there any Buddhists who don't use that as the foundation of everything else, even if they disagree on which sutras are essential?
posted by aught at 5:07 AM on February 23, 2010


The human capacity for compassion is infinite.
An infinite capacity may never be realized.
If you take a ride on a logarithmic slope, you will see the world sideways.
Going sideways breaks wheels.
posted by Goofyy at 9:05 AM on February 23, 2010


I have met the Dalai Lama.

Many (many!) years ago I when I was in high school it turned out that we went to the tibetan center in Dharamsala, India. I would rather have gone hiking in the mountains, but oh well... wandering the grounds was fun and the monastery looked interesting, lots of young monks in training arguing in small groups. Occasionally one would (I'm guessing) score a point, and clap his hands loudly. Interesting way to run a school, I was thinking.

Then a little hubbub, and I noticed a group of monks heading our way. Apparently the Dalai Lama had heard that there was a group of schoolkids visiting "from India" (apparently they consider the grounds in Dharamsala part of Tibet) and he decided to come talk to us.

Although those were definitely my salad days ("when I was cold and green") I remember being impressed that a world leader wanted to talk to a bunch of nobodies like my cohorts. Especially since we could see that all the tibetans seemed to consider him a god.
posted by phliar at 4:59 PM on February 23, 2010


So what'd you talk about?
posted by desjardins at 7:24 PM on February 23, 2010


The "spiritual leader" of Tibet has enjoyed this unassailable status for some time now, becoming a byword and synonym for saintly and ethereal values. Why this doesn't put people on their guard I'll never know.

Perhaps I'm mistaken, but it seems as if Hitchens can't tell the difference between people projecting certain values onto someone and what values that someone holds. Of course, that seems like an understandable mistake by someone who also can't separate religion from its followers, or who's understanding of the beliefs he's trying to criticise is so poor as to be laughable.

I'm trying to like the guy, but whenever I read something by him I have to wonder how he can consider himself the bastion of rationality that he so purports to be. Or is he more about sensationalism? I still don't quite get the guy.
posted by Soupisgoodfood at 6:17 AM on February 25, 2010


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