News flash!
September 1, 2001 3:57 PM   Subscribe

News flash! Buddhist monks and leaders are people too, although it's easy to think otherwise judging by the uncritical adoration heaped upon the religion, and it's most high-profile representatives, in the United States. Why is it difficult for religious adherents to accept the basic fact that any religion (including Catholicism, Islam, and the Church of the SubGenius) includes helpings of the good, the bad, and the ugly? Maybe this is why I refuse to join any group that would have me as a member.
posted by estopped (14 comments total)
As an afterthought I'd like to add that I've always believed that when Americans whitewash a "foreign" institution or idea (e.g., the absolute perfection of Buddhism's Asian followers, Stalin's communist dictatorship, Marmite, etc.), no small amount of dehumanization necessarily follows. In other words, to say that followers of X are all great, nice, handsome, caring, etc. necessarily denies an element of their humanity. I don't think that I am explaining this very well, but maybe you understand what I mean.

(That Marmite bit was a joke. Kinda.)
posted by estopped at 4:07 PM on September 1, 2001

I wish this whole article were a joke, but I'm saddened that it isn't. Saying that "Buddhist monks are people too" is a far cry from spreading unsupported tales of necrophilia, torture and child murder.

I don't doubt that there have been isolated cases of Monks committing crimes--even horrific ones. They are people too, of course. But the article seems to suggest that such scandals are commonplace, without presenting anything to back the claims up.

Not to mention that, if any religions in the country are "whitewashed", they're certainly not the Asian faiths this article refers to. Nothing compares to the whitewashing Catholicism gets. Personally, I think the Pope is an asshole. How many Americans would gasp in horror when they read that?

Why Mr. Kurlantzick feels the need to trash Buddhism is beyond me. Well, I could guess, but it would only be speculation, and using the "R" word would probably bring fire and brimstone down upon me.
posted by jpoulos at 4:24 PM on September 1, 2001

PS - That's a very clever title. "Monk Funk"...they rhyme, get it?
posted by jpoulos at 4:24 PM on September 1, 2001

i agree that americans have a tendency to idealize and exoticize eastern religions like Buddhism - we treat most "foreign," "mystical" traditions that way. i also agree that most religions, Buddhism included, do contain good and bad elements. however, many people (myself included) feel that both the basic tenants of the religion and many of the institutions that have grown up around those tenants are less problematic, less corrupted, etc. than most branches of Christianity, Islam, etc. just a thought....
posted by surblimity at 4:32 PM on September 1, 2001

Nothing compares to the whitewashing Catholicism gets.
I don't know. I'd say that the whitewashing given to the institutions of any country probably rivals that given to any particular religion. You know, "God bless America," baseball, apple pie, and all that. Nationalism always seems to be on a par with religious fervor in my mind.
posted by ChrisTN at 5:02 PM on September 1, 2001

I think it's important to separate any general western (and especially US) acceptance of Buddhism from the portrayals that Buddhism receives from our media and intellectual elite. Movies and grad school seminars may paint positive pictures of Buddhism, but my guess is that if you ask the average Baptist or Mormon or Catholic what their view of Buddhists are it won't be something you'd hear at a Free Tibet! rally. I'm sure that even a sizable minority would quite flatly tell you that Buddhism is a false religion and that its practitioners are doomed to hell unless they embrace Jesus Christ.
posted by dcart at 5:24 PM on September 1, 2001

Isn't there an old Buddhist saying or koan that says something like, "If you meet your Buddha on the road, kill him?"

Does this mean that if I (assuming that I am a God-fearing 'Merican Buddhist, so to say) have built something up to such epic proportions that it casts shadows over other aspects of my life and/or otherwise gets in the way of achieving enlightenment, then I oughta ditch it? If so, shouldn't I "kill" my hyped-up images associated with modern Buddhist leaders/icons/etc? I'm pretty ignorant of Buddhist dogma. Does it mean something entirely different?
posted by estopped at 5:40 PM on September 1, 2001

I was under the impression that Buddhism was a way of life and not specifically a religion, like Taoism. At least that's what a couple of Buddhists told me.

As far as pedophilia in the priesthood. I would like to know what the percent of pedophiles in general population. It seems here that the number in the priesthood is about 2-5 percent (I'm adding a few for the somewhat bias on the author's part). The number of pedophiles in the clergy today is probably no larger then it is any group.
posted by geoff. at 6:53 PM on September 1, 2001

Taoism, in it's original form (not folk Taoist mysticism), is even less of a religion in the traditional sense of the word than Buddhism. it's more of a philosophy of living, with less concentration on an afterlife/transcending this state of existence or specific morality than Buddhism. the central tenet of Taoism is wu wei, which generally means that one's actions should not disrupt the natural flow of the world if one wants to lead a good, long, pleasant, healthy life.

(this is, of course, my american-college-nerd-knowledge of taoism... anyone who knows more, feel free to correct me.)
posted by surblimity at 7:11 PM on September 1, 2001

estopped: "If you meet The Buddha on the road, kill him" doesn't quite mean what you say. It refers to not believing things that are outside of the self. Of course, a Buddhist would not suggest actually killing someone ;-)

Basically this means that no meaning that comes from outside of ourselves is real. You need to recognize your own meanings, and 'killing the Buddha' means to get rid of the hope that there is something outside of the self to worship or 'believe in'. We are our own masters.
posted by wackybrit at 8:00 PM on September 1, 2001

Buddhism has as many different branches as Christianity. Just as some things that may be true for some Christians are utterly rejected by others, so it goes for Buddhism. A liberation theology Catholic and a US Southern Baptist will claim to base their actions on the same Jesus and the same teachings of Jesus, but the interpretation and emphasis are so varied as to produce utterly opposing daily lives. This is also true with Buddhists (and I'd imagine it's true with any belief system that has hundreds of millions or more adherents).

And while it's true that there's nothing outside of the self to 'believe' in, the variation of Buddhism that I'm most familiar with would put an equal emphasis on the idea that there's no self to believe in either.
posted by dcart at 9:57 PM on September 1, 2001

I always understood that a reasoned examination of spiritual precepts (as well as everything else) was integral to Buddhism. At least the Tibetan Buddhists, which I studied in the 80s. I think the Dalai Lama would agree with that. Don't take anything for granted, keep your own counsel. I did that and moved on. Richer.
posted by aflakete at 1:49 AM on September 2, 2001

Well good point all around, although you should realize that the Church of the SubGenius dosent want you as a member only your money... PRAISE BOB! (and Budda, and Jesus, and Satan, and Krishna, you know who ever is reading this right now)
posted by neon_slacker at 9:42 AM on September 2, 2001

No offense to wackybrit, but I think estopped's reading of the famous "if you see Buddha on the road, kill him" prase is perfectly valid (and one I've seen at least one Buddhist put forth). They're both good readings that emphasize different aspects of Buddhism: "Believe nothing, O monk, merely because you have been told it. ...But believe what, after due examination and analysis, you find conducive to the...welfare of beings" (via
posted by wheat at 8:10 AM on September 4, 2001

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