Can Westerners truly become Buddhists?

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Re: Can Westerners truly become Buddhists?

Postby plwk » Fri Mar 01, 2013 3:28 pm

I think India is the most accepting culture I've lived in so far. When I was staying in Ladakh on the second day an Indian gentleman insisted on buying me breakfast because, as he said, "We should support holy men." I insisted I was no holy man, but accepted breakfast. He actually watches Ajahn Brahm's videos online and thinks highly of him. To most Indians, I suspect, a westerner being Buddhist or even a Sadhu isn't so unusual. Hell in India nothing is really unusual. That's the beauty of Mother India.
Tsk tsk shave the beard.... :mrgreen:
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Re: Can Westerners truly become Buddhists?

Postby Indrajala » Fri Mar 01, 2013 3:30 pm

plwk wrote:
I think India is the most accepting culture I've lived in so far. When I was staying in Ladakh on the second day an Indian gentleman insisted on buying me breakfast because, as he said, "We should support holy men." I insisted I was no holy man, but accepted breakfast. He actually watches Ajahn Brahm's videos online and thinks highly of him. To most Indians, I suspect, a westerner being Buddhist or even a Sadhu isn't so unusual. Hell in India nothing is really unusual. That's the beauty of Mother India.
Tsk tsk shave the beard.... :mrgreen:


I was also wearing my Zen monk outfit (samue) and said I was living at the stupa.

Actually some other people asked to take my photo. They said, "I want a picture of the Japanese monk."

Huh? Okay...
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Re: Can Westerners truly become Buddhists?

Postby Yudron » Fri Mar 01, 2013 9:21 pm

Mirage--Regarding the deities, if you are a Vajrayana student of the Nyingma school it would be difficult to dispense with them, because people see the their internal 100 peaceful and wrathful deities manifesting externally in the bardo, or, if they become a sublime practitioner, they may see them externally during the bardo of this life as well. Note: they are not seeing a Tibetan painting of deity, but deity itself. Their appearance in the bardo may be very bright and very loud, so that untrained people my not recognize them as their own divinity... they may have aversion, as you do to their portraits in art. So, we do various practices to learn to recognize and love them.
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Re: Can Westerners truly become Buddhists?

Postby Indrajala » Sat Mar 02, 2013 2:27 am

Topic split. For discussion of east and west philosophical exchange see here: :smile:

viewtopic.php?f=66&t=11957
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Re: Can Westerners truly become Buddhists?

Postby Nikolay » Sat Mar 02, 2013 9:15 am

Yudron wrote:Mirage--Regarding the deities, if you are a Vajrayana student of the Nyingma school it would be difficult to dispense with them, because people see the their internal 100 peaceful and wrathful deities manifesting externally in the bardo, or, if they become a sublime practitioner, they may see them externally during the bardo of this life as well. Note: they are not seeing a Tibetan painting of deity, but deity itself. Their appearance in the bardo may be very bright and very loud, so that untrained people my not recognize them as their own divinity... they may have aversion, as you do to their portraits in art. So, we do various practices to learn to recognize and love them.

I certainly would not want to "dispence" with deities, I find their existence (so to say) very inspiring. I just think that the same painting, for example, may send all the right signals to a Tibetan ("majestic, divine, beautiful, intimidating" - depends on the deity, of course) and some very different signals to a person raised in a different culture ("umm, weird"). I find it detrimental to my practice.
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Re: Can Westerners truly become Buddhists?

Postby Redzen » Sun Apr 06, 2014 10:03 am

This is a question I have sometimes asked myself: Can Westerners even be Buddhists in any true or real sense? The limitations of translating ideas, concepts, and meaning from the various languages of Asia used to record Buddhism into Western languages must leave some gap in meaning or understanding. Ancient Indian culture and the cultures of East Asia where Buddhism has thrived is far different to the Western cultural milieu. This is a very fundamental question for me if I am to embark on Buddhism in any meaningful and significant way.
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Re: Can Westerners truly become Buddhists?

Postby Jetavan » Sun Apr 06, 2014 8:42 pm

Have any modern Western Buddhists achieved levels of realization?
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Re: Can Westerners truly become Buddhists?

Postby Adi » Sun Apr 06, 2014 9:07 pm

Jetavan wrote:Have any modern Western Buddhists achieved levels of realization?


Certainly. I think Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo is a very good example.

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Re: Can Westerners truly become Buddhists?

Postby Vajraprajnakhadga » Sun Apr 06, 2014 10:06 pm

Nikolay wrote:There is a certain viewpoint that I often encounter. Basically, it says that since we were not born and raised in a Buddhist culture, we can never fully embrace and understand Buddhism on a deeper, more intuitive level. We have our own spiritual traditions, which influence our culture, and, by extension, ourselves through our entire lives, and if we want to make any significant spiritual process, we have no choice but to follow them.

Personally, I find this theory very disturbing, because it resonates with some of my experience. For example, while I find Buddhist philosophy and ethics essentially flawless, and practice instructions incredibly profound, I find it disturbingly difficult to relate to what I would describe as "forms" of Buddhism as religion. Buddhist symbolism and sacred art are, to be completely frank, alien to me. For example, I cannot relate to the way deities are depicted: it is clear that there are aesthetics and artistic conventions at work here, which are aimed at a totally different cultural background. Even disregarding style, I simply wasn't conditioned to perceive a many-armed figure as "divine", so it fails to cause appropriate feelings in me. On the other hand, I was conditioned to perceive a winged figure as "divine", so this symbolism works. Same goes for sacred music, literary style and metaphors, etc.

What do you think?


I think it's a very silly notion, and honestly quite insulting to all the very accomplished western practitioners in the world. And the fact of the matter is that most of those born into a Buddhist culture actually know very little about the Dharma unless they actively study it. And if you can't relate to Buddhist imagery there is always Theravada and Zen which are very light on that stuff. You also could simply stop trying to force a square peg into a round hole if it really doesn't suit you. There are Christian mystic traditions that may ultimately fit you much better.
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Re: Can Westerners truly become Buddhists?

Postby Vajraprajnakhadga » Sun Apr 06, 2014 10:08 pm

Jetavan wrote:Have any modern Western Buddhists achieved levels of realization?


It's not like people carry signs around their necks saying they are realized. I would venture to say that there definitely are, but realization is slippery when viewed from the perspective of confusion. Any person you meet may be a fully realized being after all, even if they just look like a totally regular person.
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Re: Can Westerners truly become Buddhists?

Postby Vajraprajnakhadga » Sun Apr 06, 2014 10:11 pm

Nikolay wrote:
Yudron wrote:Mirage--Regarding the deities, if you are a Vajrayana student of the Nyingma school it would be difficult to dispense with them, because people see the their internal 100 peaceful and wrathful deities manifesting externally in the bardo, or, if they become a sublime practitioner, they may see them externally during the bardo of this life as well. Note: they are not seeing a Tibetan painting of deity, but deity itself. Their appearance in the bardo may be very bright and very loud, so that untrained people my not recognize them as their own divinity... they may have aversion, as you do to their portraits in art. So, we do various practices to learn to recognize and love them.

I certainly would not want to "dispence" with deities, I find their existence (so to say) very inspiring. I just think that the same painting, for example, may send all the right signals to a Tibetan ("majestic, divine, beautiful, intimidating" - depends on the deity, of course) and some very different signals to a person raised in a different culture ("umm, weird"). I find it detrimental to my practice.


I used to be totally turned off my tantric deities. Then at some point it all began to make total sense to me. This seem to arise from openness and practice, and is undoubtedly karmic. There is no doubt however that some westerners connect very deeply with these things even though they weren't raised around it.
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Re: Can Westerners truly become Buddhists?

Postby Gwenn Dana » Sun Apr 06, 2014 10:16 pm

Tsk. We all know westerners carry only Dollar-Signs and gold grills. :mrgreen: :guns:

Take any gospel-singing black slave who managed to stay kind and loving anyhow.
Is there any fuller realization than that?
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Re: Can Westerners truly become Buddhists?

Postby Adi » Sun Apr 06, 2014 10:17 pm

Vajraprajnakhadga wrote:
Jetavan wrote:Have any modern Western Buddhists achieved levels of realization?


It's not like people carry signs around their necks saying they are realized. I would venture to say that there definitely are, but realization is slippery when viewed from the perspective of confusion. Any person you meet may be a fully realized being after all, even if they just look like a totally regular person.


Yes indeed, and some such might even be on this forum, though the evidence is far from conclusive. :D

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Re: Can Westerners truly become Buddhists?

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Sun Apr 06, 2014 10:18 pm

If that's so, focus on the things that are the same - crowns, jewelry, robes for instance. Avalokiteshvara doesn't look all that different from some western notions of a kingly or princely figure, minus the arms, multiple faces and such of course. Trungpa mentions that there are many areas where the symbolism actually crosses cultural boundaries and should "work" just fine.

Really western iconography has just as many "weird" things if you look.
"Just as a lotus does not grow out of a well-levelled soil but from the mire, in the same way the awakening mind
is not born in the hearts of disciples in whom the moisture of attachment has dried up. It grows instead in the hearts of ordinary sentient beings who possess in full the fetters of bondage." -Se Chilbu Choki Gyaltsen
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Re: Can Westerners truly become Buddhists?

Postby Adi » Sun Apr 06, 2014 10:26 pm

Johnny Dangerous wrote:...Really western iconography has just as many "weird" things if you look.


It's hard to see it when you're immersed in it, but traveling to a very different kind of place is helpful for me. Then upon my return I'm startled to see images of dead men nailed to lumber, women and men with their hearts torn out yet looking serene, giant clowns selling ground-up cow meat on buns, bears telling me not to set trees on fire and other bears wanting me to buy toilet paper made from those trees, the pyramid on our one dollar bill…the list is truly almost endless.

So it's not that difficult for me to embrace Avalokiteshvara as he is quite welcoming, apparently still alive, and often has the most compassionate and serene expression. Sometimes what seems exotic can be a support and not a hindrance.

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Re: Can Westerners truly become Buddhists?

Postby Indrajala » Tue Apr 08, 2014 5:46 am

Jetavan wrote:Have any modern Western Buddhists achieved levels of realization?


The real question is whether their greater communities would recognize them as such, or celebrate their accomplishments in a way that delegated to them spiritual authority, which could compromise existing economic arrangements.
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Re: Can Westerners truly become Buddhists?

Postby Indrajala » Tue Apr 08, 2014 5:54 am

Redzen wrote:The limitations of translating ideas, concepts, and meaning from the various languages of Asia used to record Buddhism into Western languages must leave some gap in meaning or understanding.


Sanskrit and Pali are actually closer to English (they're all Indo-European) than Chinese or Tibetan. The Chinese struggled for many centuries to understand a lot of classical Indian ideas (their translation methods also left out a lot of nuances and grammatical forms), whereas western languages have the advantage of possessing a philosophical heritage not so distantly related to Indian lines of thought (there was a lot of interaction between Hellenic and Indian civilizations in ancient times, see The Shape of Ancient Thought). It is arguably easier to translate classical Indian ideas and terms into modern English than Chinese or Tibetan.

However, translating uniquely Tibetan or Chinese ideas into English might prove more problematic for a number of reasons. For example, a lot of ideas found in Chan texts are so terse and nebulous at times that content must be added to sufficiently render such ideas into English.

Ancient Indian culture and the cultures of East Asia where Buddhism has thrived is far different to the Western cultural milieu. This is a very fundamental question for me if I am to embark on Buddhism in any meaningful and significant way.


Indian and Hellenic cultures in ancient times were not so different. Again, The Shape of Ancient Thought goes into great detail explaining the common interactions between the two civilizations. Watch the following video if you're interested:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OXBygl-ox5Q
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Re: Can Westerners truly become Buddhists?

Postby dude » Tue Apr 08, 2014 5:59 am

Indrajala wrote:
Jetavan wrote:Have any modern Western Buddhists achieved levels of realization?


The real question is whether their greater communities would recognize them as such, or celebrate their accomplishments in a way that delegated to them spiritual authority, which could compromise existing economic arrangements.



What do you mean by that?
What kind of authority and what kind of economic arrangements?
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Re: Can Westerners truly become Buddhists?

Postby smcj » Tue Apr 08, 2014 6:01 am

Jetavan wrote:Have any modern Western Buddhists achieved levels of realization?

Yes.
The real question is whether their greater communities would recognize them as such, or celebrate their accomplishments in a way that delegated to them spiritual authority, which could compromise existing economic arrangements.

You have just said that "The real question is will the 8 worldly dharmas result in a different people getting status, authority and money?"
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Re: Can Westerners truly become Buddhists?

Postby plwk » Tue Apr 08, 2014 6:03 am

The real question is whether their greater communities would recognize them as such, or celebrate their accomplishments in a way that delegated to them spiritual authority, which could compromise existing economic arrangements.
Well, I was thinking of those European and American 'Dharma heirs' of the late Ven Master Dr Sheng Yen, surely they have it? Or like the Ven Master Heng Sure from CTTB? At the very least, his mother recognises his qualities in her glowing praise of him....
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