Think of pre-PRC Tibet as a sterile petrie dish.
You mean a Shangri La?
No, not a Shangri La. Tibet was past its prime as a society and was in decline. The septic tank of b.s. had overflowed and the flood of sewage was creeping up the monastery walls. But there was still the ethic of preserving the pristine Dharma.
As an example I will use the lama that was sent to us California hippies to teach meditation. He was born in 1931. Then in 1948, at the age of 17, he and a group of his peers took a vow to spend the rest of their lives on a cloistered retreat. They were sealed off into a section of the monastery where their food, water, and Dharma instruction were passed through the sealed door. That was it. Nothing else in, nothing else out. So in the early '50s when the Chinese walked into Kham they were not told about it. When things got tense and threatening, they were not told about it. They were on retreat, and to be insulated from samsara. It was 1959 before they found out. The first they knew that there was a problem was when the monastery came under direct attack, with explosions, screams, gunfire and the like. So they broke open the sealed door to see what was going on, and with no understanding of what was happening, with people dying and chaos all around him, this lama took off for the hills on foot with no provisions and just the thought, "the 3 Jewels will protect me."
Do you know of any equivalent opportunity for practice anywhere in the world today?
As a generalization, to date, yes. Hopefully to be corrected at some point in the future.
I don't think in the present generations many folks in the west would ever see a western Buddhist clergyman/woman in the same light as an Asian. It wouldn't matter how many academic qualifications and years of retreat they've done. When they're from your culture, you can easily see all their personal flaws and failings.
It is easy to aggrandize people from foreign, exotic lands, especially when they don't speak English very well, and have a whole following of people to describe all the miracles they've performed. Easterners are "spiritual" while westerners are "materialistic.
Actually I think that when a Westerner gains deep realization it will be easier to tell because we know the mud puddle his lotus grew out of.
For the record, I do not advocate anyone participating here change anything about the way they go about their lives or their practice. That is their karma, they do as they please. But for newbies and people that have yet to establish themselves in practice, I believe that they should be given access to non-dismissive information in regards to what is still available--barely--for instruction. Much has been said in this thread about the disappearance of the Dharma. We may be witnessing it as we speak. But it's not gone yet, and the outcome is not a foregone conclusion.
In the Tantra of the Beautiful Auspiciousness (bKra shis mdzes ldan gyi rgyud), this "Great Primordial Purity" (spyi gzhi) is defined as follows:
What is known as "The Great Primordial Purity”
Is the state abiding before authentic Buddhas arose
And before impure sentient beings appeared;
It is called the great Primordial radiance of immutable awareness.