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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Dzogchen Ponlop on an American Buddhism.

Interesting view point from the author of "Rebel Buddha" (see my review of the book by clicking on this sentence) on the possibility and viability of an "American Buddhism." Special thanks to the "Rebel Buddha" blog for the video. This isn't coming from a pop-star, celebrity or a person who tries on the latest, "Buddhist flavor of the month." This is Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche. A very respected, world-renowned, Tibetan Buddhist scholar, and one of the highest teachers in the Nyingma lineage. He is also an accomplished Karma Kagyu lineage holder, and abbot of Dzogchen Monastery, which is one of the great monasteries of his lineage.

James: Even if there evolves a mixed-Buddhist lineage in America from the cauldron of melting Buddhist ideas; there will still be a place for the traditional lineages. Zen, Theravada, Tibetan, Pure Land, and the others will always have a strong, undiluted foot-hold here in America. However, it is inevitable as the Rinpoche describes for a specific American Buddhist tradition to form. No one can say what it will look like exactly but the melting is well underway.

I personally am happy right where I am in the Zen tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh. However, I would have to kindly disagree with the notion that Buddhism in Asia is "pure." Buddhism in Vietnam for example is a blend of Mahayana, Theravada and Pure Land Buddhism. Yet, not many people attack it as a bastardization of Buddhism as some say of Buddhism in America.

Culture wise, Tibetan Buddhism is rather particular to Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan. Their cultural traditions are very different from say the traditions of practice in Thailand or Japan for example. Yet, not many say they are a watered down mess of Buddhist ideas. All I am saying is that Buddhism is fluid and subject to change and adjustments like any other phenomena in this ever evolving life-span. Personally, I keep practicing my Soto Zen lineage but delight in the proliferation of ideas merging together in the cauldron of change.

I must admit that It is a bit odd to me that the people who oppose a mixing of traditions to form a unique "American Buddhism" are so resistant to change when Buddha taught that it is inevitable. Why would Buddhism be immune to it? And, why assume that change must be "bad" or "less than" other forms of Buddhism because it's adapting to a new culture -- American culture? Perhaps the traditionalists need to probe their discomfort with such a change and meditate on why it bothers them so much. There is plenty of room for everyone, and not everyone walks the exact same path in Buddhism -- even within the same lineage or tradition. Including the older, established ones such as in Theravada. Even within Theravada (which is arguably the tradition that sticks to uniformity the most) has it's variations.

We all must remember that change isn't necessarily always "bad." That said, an "American Buddhism" won't be for everyone and that's not just fine, it's the way things have to be in a complex, diverse, ever-changing world. If it adheres to the three jewels, the four noble truths, and the eightfold path while teaching compassion, emptiness and the other biggies in Buddhism then I welcome it.

~Peace to all beings~

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michelle said...

As a tibetan buddhist nun who has just returned to the US after five years in India, this has been a topic of much discussion and reflection. It's not the change per se, that bothers me but WHAT kind of changes we will institute. Already we see many 'teachers' both western and tibetan who are putting their on spin on the teachings and frankly use their own versions of "the teachings" to justify whatever behavior they wish to indulge in.

'Reincarnation? Oh don't worry about that, you don't really have to believe...' Well without cause and effect and reincarnation, Buddhism pretty much falls apart. this is just one of many things I heard from "western buddhists" who think that they can pick and choose what they want to follow. And they can...just don't call it buddhism. But then it's just merely labeled and a perception.LOL.

They call him James Ure said...

@Michelle...You make some valid points and I don't necessarily disagree with you on most of them.

I would raise one issue with you, however. It sounded as though you are saying that all "Western Buddhists" are just picking and choosing what they want to follow.

I know there are those who slap any teaching together with a mixture of other religions and such. But, that has kind of become a stereotype of "Western Buddhists."

Even though I am a Soto Zen student in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh; I am also a "Western Buddhist" in that my culture can't help but influence my Zen differently than some with (for example) a Japanese world culture.

I think most of us can agree that those who are "Western Buddhists" to justify whatever behavior they wish to indulge in are interested in something other than Buddhism.

Still, I am worried that same negative stereotype of "Western Buddhists" is being used to discredit all western, cultural Buddhists.

I agree with you on rebirth. It's pretty central. Even science believes in cause and effect.

michelle said...

No, no. That's why I put western buddhists in quotes. I was referring to the ones that feel they can do whatever. There are many, very dedicated buddhists here in the west who follow a particular tradition, or not, but maintain the basic tenets of what Buddha taught. There are people who would not call themselves buddhists, that are way better practitioners than I am.

The cultural thing will be dealt with, as it should be. I personally could care less if I never see another khata (white offering scarf) and the Dalai Lama has no real use for all the Tibetan cultural trappings as well. Once at a private audience, I was delighted when His Holieness would not allow us to take our shoes off, do prostrations, or sit lower than him. He understands that none of those things have anything to do with Buddhism, it's just Tibetan...and we're not Tibetan.

What I worry about is that there are many westerners desperate for a spiritual path and many people willing to provide them with their version of "the truth", usually for a there always has been. So I guess ultimately that it's their karma as to what path they will tread and not for us to worry about. But I am a westerner and I still suffer from this thing called existential angst...

GiuthasGeal said...

"Reincarnation? Oh don't worry about that, you don't really have to believe...' Well without cause and effect and reincarnation, Buddhism pretty much falls apart"

Whats wrong with not accepting reincarnation? doesn't being absolute on what happens when we die just create suffering in our lives?

Anonymous said...

I came to Buddhism gradually, while pursuing my interest and my belief in cause and effect and the natural processes as being sufficient to give rise to everything. All is empty of a separate existence, fits just fine with science, since we know we all "inter-be." Reincarnation fits with what I know about the chemical processes that result in nutrients and atmosphere and dirt and light and heat and everything else combining again and again the star dust and what have you that makes up the material world. That's just science, too. The longer I follow the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh (and others, as my practice continues)the less attached I am to strict interpretation in any area, since it tends to close the mind to seeing possibilities.

They call him James Ure said...

@Michelle...I totally understand your concerns.

@Anonymous...Great comment!! I couldn't have said it better myself. That's exactly how I see it too. Thanks for sharing; and keep reading. :) Happy New Year!!

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