Buddhism beyond the nation state

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Buddhism beyond the nation state

Postby Indrajala » Wed Aug 14, 2013 2:42 am

Interesting article from Payne:

http://blog.oup.com/2013/08/buddhism-be ... -division/

    At the recent Association for Asian Studies (ASA) conference, four scholars, each in their own way, spoke to the constraints imposed by privileging geo-political categories as the structures by which Buddhism is apprehended, raising issues directly relevant to the discussions made here regarding the rhetorical and lexical consequences of categorizing Buddhism according to the convenient artifice of the nation-state. They propose instead to explore Buddhism in the broader context of Asian history as a civilization that introduced new social institutions and languages, established new agricultural technologies and trading relations, and transformed the environment beyond national borders and ethnic categories.


The tendency to describe the development within the boundaries of modern nation states is problematic, though this is recognized by academia generally. However, Buddhists themselves are often comfortable with describing Buddhism through the lens of nationalism (Korean Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, etc.) and might even actively promote a nation-specific form of Buddhism, whereas this can only be recognized as a new development of the last few decades at best, though they'll project into the past their anachronistic model.

For example in the case of "Tibetan Buddhism":

    David Gray (University of Santa Clara) questions the category Tibetan Buddhism. In his essay “How Tibetan is Tibetan Buddhism? On the Applicability of a National Designation for a Transnational Tradition,” he points out that today there is no Tibet to which this label can refer. Additionally, arguably the majority of practitioners of “Tibetan” Buddhism neither are ethnic Tibetans, nor do they speak or read Tibetan. More significantly, while Tibetans considered themselves Buddhists and had a sense of Tibet as a distinct geo-political category, “they simply did not conceive of their tradition in nationalistic terms.”


What comes to mind here is how contemporary Tibetan Buddhism in the west is often intricately linked with Tibetan nationalism, going hand in hand with the Tibetan independence movement.
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Re: Buddhism beyond the nation state

Postby Nemo » Wed Aug 14, 2013 3:41 am

Almost every nation distills alcohol. All will get you drunk. But every culture imprints it's own unique style and flavour upon it. Good scotch can be made anywhere, but the recipe originally came from Scotland.

Buddhism survived unmolested in Tibet for the most part for purely geopolitical reasons. Lang Dharma had to be assassinated for Buddhism to survive. Then the geopolitical force of Mao came and destroyed it and scattered the remains to the four directions. To separate it from the present time and our cultural baggage is simple scholarship. Pretending the story of Buddhism is apolitical is disingenuous.
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Re: Buddhism beyond the nation state

Postby yegyal » Wed Aug 14, 2013 8:23 am

First of all, Tibetans don't call it Tibetan Buddhism, they just call it Buddhism. And contrary to the above quote, most practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism are ethnically Tibetan or of Himalayan origin. For all the propaganda about westerners saving Tibetan Buddhism, we are a miniscule minority in the grand scheme of things and are actually far outnumbered by East Asian devotees who as a group have offered much more financial assistance to Tibetan institutions. And just because so called Western practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism tend to support Tibetan independence doesn't mean that these groups are "hand in hand" with the independence movement. It's more likely that they have relationships with Tibetan refugees and so are generally sympathetic to their situation.

Having said that, we tend to use the term Tibetan Buddhism in the same way we use East Asian Buddhism, i.e. to referance an extremely broad group of traditions, so, like most terms such as this, it's just a matter of ease of reference. Nevertheless, what if you were to consider the term "Tibetan" refers to the language, rather than the "nation-state" or geographical locale? Would that be such a problem? I think it is a fairly useful way of grouping these traditions, considering that we're still a very long way off from dispensing with Tibetan as the lingua franca of these particular schools.
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Re: Buddhism beyond the nation state

Postby Indrajala » Wed Aug 14, 2013 12:08 pm

yegyal wrote:First of all, Tibetans don't call it Tibetan Buddhism, they just call it Buddhism.


When they speak English, they refer to their religion as Tibetan Buddhism. The rest of the world calls it Tibetan Buddhism, too. Even what Mongolians and Ladakhis practice is called Tibetan Buddhism. In some ways that is like calling Zen or Seon as Chinese Buddhism.

And contrary to the above quote, most practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism are ethnically Tibetan or of Himalayan origin.


Ladakhis don't identify as Tibetan. A lot of Nepalis like Sherpas and Tamang and so forth likewise don't identify as Tibet, nor do Mongolians or western enthusiasts.



And just because so called Western practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism tend to support Tibetan independence doesn't mean that these groups are "hand in hand" with the independence movement. It's more likely that they have relationships with Tibetan refugees and so are generally sympathetic to their situation.


I don't think you can realistically avoid the independence politics if you get involved with Tibetan Buddhism in the west.


I think it is a fairly useful way of grouping these traditions, considering that we're still a very long way off from dispensing with Tibetan as the lingua franca of these particular schools.


I think so, too, but it has limitations, especially from an academic point of view where we're dealing with the pre-modern developments as well. The Indosphere for example use to extend right up to Dunhuang in what was then the western frontier of China. There used to be a city called Agni (Sanskrit for "fire") not so far from the Chinese border. We need to bear that sort of thing in mind.

Asian scholarship in Japanese and Chinese tend to be anachronistic in their projections of nations into the past as well.
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Re: Buddhism beyond the nation state

Postby Indrajala » Wed Aug 14, 2013 12:12 pm

Nemo wrote:Buddhism survived unmolested in Tibet for the most part for purely geopolitical reasons. Lang Dharma had to be assassinated for Buddhism to survive. Then the geopolitical force of Mao came and destroyed it and scattered the remains to the four directions. To separate it from the present time and our cultural baggage is simple scholarship. Pretending the story of Buddhism is apolitical is disingenuous.


But that ignores the fact "Tibetan Buddhism" also existed and thrived in places like Mongolia, Nepal, Ladakh and to some extent Manchuria/China.

I include Ladakh because Ladakhis at least nowadays don't generally identify as Tibetan.
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Re: Buddhism beyond the nation state

Postby yegyal » Wed Aug 14, 2013 12:35 pm

Indrajala wrote:
And contrary to the above quote, most practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism are ethnically Tibetan or of Himalayan origin.


Ladakhis don't identify as Tibetan. A lot of Nepalis like Sherpas and Tamang and so forth likewise don't identify as Tibet, nor do Mongolians or western enthusiasts.



[quote]

Ladhakis, Sherpas and Thamang are all of "Himalayan origin." Granted Mongolians do not fall into this category, but I said "most" not "all."
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Re: Buddhism beyond the nation state

Postby Indrajala » Wed Aug 14, 2013 1:56 pm

yegyal wrote:Ladhakis, Sherpas and Thamang are all of "Himalayan origin." Granted Mongolians do not fall into this category, but I said "most" not "all."


So it is inappropriate to call it Tibetan Buddhism if a large segment of the related parties are from the Himalayas and not Tibet.
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Re: Buddhism beyond the nation state

Postby plwk » Wed Aug 14, 2013 2:17 pm

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Re: Buddhism beyond the nation state

Postby Indrajala » Wed Aug 14, 2013 2:29 pm



Sure, but where does Mongolia, Manchuria and Russia fit in?

Maybe going back to Lamaism might work. :thinking:
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Re: Buddhism beyond the nation state

Postby JKhedrup » Wed Aug 14, 2013 2:33 pm

I don't think you can realistically avoid the independence politics if you get involved with Tibetan Buddhism in the west.


Actually you can. I know many people that attend Tibetan centres but have no interest in Tibet as a geo-political issue. Just like I know Viet Namese Buddhist practitioners who have no interest in the pro- and anti- communist camps within the Vietnamese Buddhist organizations in diaspora.

It is actually difficult to mobilize dharma practitioners to support Tibet. I was reticent for many years until after 2008 when the situation became beyond what an informed person could in good conscience tolerate.
In order to ensure my mind never comes under the power of the self-cherishing attitude,
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Re: Buddhism beyond the nation state

Postby yegyal » Wed Aug 14, 2013 2:54 pm

Indrajala wrote:
yegyal wrote:Ladhakis, Sherpas and Thamang are all of "Himalayan origin." Granted Mongolians do not fall into this category, but I said "most" not "all."


So it is inappropriate to call it Tibetan Buddhism if a large segment of the related parties are from the Himalayas and not Tibet.


Do I really need to contextualize every thing I say several times? Well, here it goes. I orginally made a statement in response to the quote you cited, "Additionally, arguably the majority of practitioners of “Tibetan” Buddhism neither are ethnic Tibetans, nor do they speak or read Tibetan." To which I responded, "And contrary to the above quote, most practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism are ethnically Tibetan or of Himalayan origin." To which you pointed out that Ladhakis Sherpas etc don't consider themselves Tibetan, hence the reminder that I also said "of Himalayan origin."

As for your last response, I don't think Tibetan Budddhism is inappropriate at all, especially if you think of the Tibetan being referenced is the language, and not a location. Even Mongolians use Tibetan texts, and belong to Tibetan lineages, so what's wrong with this characterization. Or better yet, it can just be understood that it is a very general term, much like the term Buddhism, that is being unnaturally forced upon a wide variety of traditions that often are only tenuously related. These are merely verbal conventions and should be viewed as such.

And "lamaism" is just an offensive way of trying to characterize Tibetan Buddhism, as not really Buddhism at all.
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Re: Buddhism beyond the nation state

Postby JKhedrup » Wed Aug 14, 2013 3:03 pm

It is true what you say Yegyal.

I would say it like this: Ladakhis, Sherpas, Bhutanese and Monpas are not ethnic Tibetans but they are Tibetan Buddhists. Because the scriptural language of their Buddhist tradition is Tibetan. In the same way that Thais, Sri Lankans and Burmese are Pali Buddhists- they practice the Pali tradition of Theravada Buddhism.

However also consider that not only do these Himalayan Buddhists practice Tibetan Buddhism, they also are within the Tibetan cultural sphere, by any estimation. There may be small variations in terms of minor customs but as a whole they share a cultural legacy with the Tibetans.

Lamaism is an antiquated term no longer respected in academic circles. Tibetan Buddhism definitely deserves to be called Buddhist, especially when you look at the tremendous practice traditions and the deep philosophical texts the culture produced about essential Buddhist concepts such as the 4 Noble Truths, Bodhicitta, Madhyamika etc.
In order to ensure my mind never comes under the power of the self-cherishing attitude,
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Re: Buddhism beyond the nation state

Postby plwk » Wed Aug 14, 2013 3:13 pm

I think those of us who were on the now defunct E-Sangha have seen how discussions there have shown the pejorative nature of 'Lamaism' akin to 'Hinayana': as a racist, propaganda, political and all that past hogwash and as what J Khedrup said as well in academia circles. So no. I wouldn't.
Perhaps, sub branches under 'Himalayan Buddhism': Himalayan States/East Asia/European? Like 'East Asian Mahayana' and its sub categories?
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Re: Buddhism beyond the nation state

Postby Astus » Wed Aug 14, 2013 3:26 pm

I prefer the linguistic-cultural differentiation. That often connects with national ideas but not necessarily. By the way, as I know there is a complete Mongolian canon, while there are no full Korean/Japanese/Vietnamese translations.
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Re: Buddhism beyond the nation state

Postby Indrajala » Wed Aug 14, 2013 3:26 pm

yegyal wrote: As for your last response, I don't think Tibetan Budddhism is inappropriate at all, especially if you think of the Tibetan being referenced is the language, and not a location. Even Mongolians use Tibetan texts, and belong to Tibetan lineages, so what's wrong with this characterization.


Because it ignores regional developments and suggests a kind of cohesiveness and integration that never existed.

Japan and Korea uses Classical Chinese Buddhist texts, but they are not called Chinese Buddhism.


These are merely verbal conventions and should be viewed as such.


Sure, but one's sense of spaces and boundaries as formed by conventional language have a direct relation to how things are perceived, thus influencing behaviour and decision making.

Also, from an academic perspective, seeing things in a highly nuanced and informed way is important.


And "lamaism" is just an offensive way of trying to characterize Tibetan Buddhism, as not really Buddhism at all.


In 1928 it understandably didn't seem like Buddhism to western eyes:

    Buddha, the most placid of the prophets, would himself have been perturbed by a letter which was received last week at the Buddhist Center, of Manhattan. The letter was signed by Professor Nicholas Roerich; it had been despatched from the terrain that lies north of the Himalayas, where the Roerich American Expedition (TIME, June 4) is now located. It detailed, in approximately 5,000 words, the degradation which Nicholas Roerich had discovered in Tibet during his four-year sojourn thereabouts. In condensed form, the letter said: Buddhism in Tibet, its ancient stronghold, has become a depraved Shamanistic religion. The celebrated Tashi Lumpo monastery, residence of the abdicated Tashi Lama, has been deserted and desecrated. Lamas, teachers of the people, tell fortunes for alms, by the haunches of mutton, or dice; they beg and cheat; to mystify the ignorant, they mutter squeaky conjurations or play with human bones. The forest-dwelling Buddhists revere arrows and absurd amulets. Conscious reverence for Buddha is held by very few.

    The business of Tibet has fallen into ruin. A pitiful hut is described, in official documents as "a snowy palace." . . . In the big villages there is not a single store. . . . "In twilight people come to you begging you to sell them something but they do not dare to trade openly. . . . It is dreadful to think that the name of Buddha is intermingled with all this dirt, physical and spiritual."


http://www.time.com/time/magazine/artic ... 11,00.html
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Re: Buddhism beyond the nation state

Postby JKhedrup » Wed Aug 14, 2013 3:36 pm

To be fair, those western eyes had notyet been exposed to the vast corpus of Sanskrit texts translated into Tibetan as well as many profound philosophical commentaries. They saw only the ritualustic surface and didn't have the Tibetan langyage skills necessary to go beyond that.

And divination is widely practiced in the Chinese tradition as well, they sell amulets in theravada countries. The quote to me sounds like the surface observations of a western (possibly christian) academic with an agenda to push.
Last edited by JKhedrup on Wed Aug 14, 2013 3:39 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Buddhism beyond the nation state

Postby Indrajala » Wed Aug 14, 2013 3:37 pm

JKhedrup wrote:To be fair, those western eyes had notyet been exposed to the vast corpus of Sanskrit texts translated into Tibetan as well as many profound philosophical commentaries. They saw only the ritualustic surface and didn't have the Tibetan langyage skills necessary to go beyond that.


Maybe, but at the time what percentage of the clergy really studied those texts?
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Re: Buddhism beyond the nation state

Postby JKhedrup » Wed Aug 14, 2013 3:42 pm

I can only speak for the gelug tradition with which i am familiar, but at least a majority were exposedto tbetexts in the first few years, and were abke to read them at least. But yes, many did not finish their education or worked.
In order to ensure my mind never comes under the power of the self-cherishing attitude,
I must obtain control over my own mind.
Therefore, amongst all empowerments, the empowerment that gives me control over my mind is the best,
and I have received the most profound empowerment with this teaching.
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Re: Buddhism beyond the nation state

Postby Indrajala » Wed Aug 14, 2013 3:46 pm

JKhedrup wrote:I can only speak for the gelug tradition with which i am familiar, but at least a majority were exposedto tbetexts in the first few years, and were abke to read them at least. But yes, many did not finish their education or worked.


Regardless of how we feel about it now in 2013, at the time it would have understandably seemed warranted to have a different term for the religion in Tibet.
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Re: Buddhism beyond the nation state

Postby Malcolm » Wed Aug 14, 2013 5:34 pm

Indrajala wrote:
For example in the case of "Tibetan Buddhism":

    David Gray (University of Santa Clara) questions the category Tibetan Buddhism. In his essay “How Tibetan is Tibetan Buddhism? On the Applicability of a National Designation for a Transnational Tradition,” he points out that today there is no Tibet to which this label can refer. Additionally, arguably the majority of practitioners of “Tibetan” Buddhism neither are ethnic Tibetans, nor do they speak or read Tibetan. More significantly, while Tibetans considered themselves Buddhists and had a sense of Tibet as a distinct geo-political category, “they simply did not conceive of their tradition in nationalistic terms.”


What comes to mind here is how contemporary Tibetan Buddhism in the west is often intricately linked with Tibetan nationalism, going hand in hand with the Tibetan independence movement.


Presently, Buddhism has become a nationalist banner for young Tibetans inside of Tibet, so Gray is mistaken. In fact, under the Chinese hegemony, Buddhism, especially the Nyingma school, has become widely identified with the struggle for Tibetan independence in large part because Nyingma legends are based on the Tibetan Imperial Period -- and in coordination with that is a very popular cult of Gesar as guru, deva and dharmapāla.

As for westerners who use the sobriquet "Tibetan Buddhism", this is not really nationalistic -- it is connected with the source of the brand i.e. Tibet, as opposed to Japanese Buddhism (Zen, Shingon, Tendai, Nichiren), etc., or Chinese Buddhism (Chan, Pure Land, etc.).

Many westerners adopt the styles, customs and costumes of the nation their Buddhism derives from: for example, in Zen, Chan, Son, Theravada, Sakya, Kagyu, Nyingma, Gelug etc. They even adopt the individual customs of different sects.

But this adoption and adaptation is largely free from political overtones. For example, I am sure no western practitioner of Zen really takes the ultra nationalist positions of their Japanese forbears.

In fact, what I think you are witnessing is merely a phase in adaptation of a regional Buddhist teaching which can be grouped into three rough phases: curiosity; exploration and adoption; maturation and evolution beyond that cultural source of a given teaching.

Some Tibetans, like Trungpa, tried to build cultural separation from the source culture of his teachings right from the beginning. Most of the Shambhala Buddhists I know are only very dimly aware of Tibet and really do not care much about it. They are not encouraged to learn Tibetan and they are actively discouraged from having direct contact with Tibetan teachers.

Other Tibetans, like Chagdud, Lama Dawa, etc., are very interested in having their students preserve the uniquely Tibetan forms of the Nyingma school.

Some other Tibetans, like Chogyal Namkhai Norbu, assert their Dharma teachings is beyond cultural limitations, etc., but maintain separate organizations for the academic study and preservation of aspects of Tibetan cultural knowledge such as medicine, astrology, etc.

So the stereotype you paint here is rather limited and feeble. The forms of Dharma that come from Tibet have been in the West long enough so that now various different organizations are starting to stand on their own without much support from Tibetan institutions.

In general, those organizations most tied into Tibetan culture are the Gelugs and the Kagyus because they funnel large amounts of money from Taiwan, Europe and the US to monasteries in India.

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