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Author Topic: Paganism and Buddhism: Syncreticism and Eclecticism  (Read 3703 times)

Redfaery

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Paganism and Buddhism: Syncreticism and Eclecticism
« on: October 07, 2014, 04:24:56 am »
A discussion in another thread (which did not go well for me) got me thinking about the way Buddhism is perceived in Paganism, and more generally about the way existing world religions are either approached eclectically or syncretically.

I should start off with the disclaimer that I consider myself first and foremost a Buddhist dedicated to Sarasvati at this point. I don't consider myself pagan so much as a "pagan-flavored mystic," in that I interact with Sarasvati and other spirits in ways that are best understood by individuals who tend to self-define as pagan.

For individuals here who self-identify as pagan and include Buddhist elements in their practice: are you eclectic or syncretic in your approach? What elements of Buddhism do you include? Why? Where did you learn them? Do you consider yourself aligned with any particular tradition?

I personally am not sure Buddhism takes well to most attempts at eclecticism, though I am convinced it is excellent in syncretic blends, with the usual disclaimer that creating a syncretic cohesion between two or more traditions is hard.
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Faemon

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Re: Paganism and Buddhism: Syncreticism and Eclecticism
« Reply #1 on: October 07, 2014, 05:01:06 am »
Quote from: Redfaery;161432
For individuals here who self-identify as pagan and include Buddhist elements in their practice: are you eclectic or syncretic in your approach? What elements of Buddhism do you include? Why? Where did you learn them? Do you consider yourself aligned with any particular tradition?

 
I grew up not knowing Siddhartha from Hotei, but at the same time these ideas were just sort of floating around. Reincarnation. Illusion. Enlightenment. I didn't know where those ideas were from as in I couldn't name a Bhikku or Lama who would have stood somewhere people would listen and talked about it, but it's just that most people in my life had somewhat of a vague inkling. So, I just took those for granted. I picked up a copy of Simple Buddhism while I was exploring religions that would just jive with me a little better than Catholicism had. Later I'd read more on it.

It could very well be that some where more Hindu influenced, but just my impression that the presence of Hinduism in my community was very distinctive. Like, it's also always around somehow but if I picked up anything from it I feel like I'd be able to say from who. Maybe not.

Anyway, because I grew up with those ideas floating around to get picked up, and I did pick them up, I acknowledge the (possible) influence, but can't claim any alignment with a particular tradition. Other than, perhaps, "non-denominational folk influenced"?
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Jack

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Re: Paganism and Buddhism: Syncreticism and Eclecticism
« Reply #2 on: October 07, 2014, 05:16:07 am »
Quote from: Redfaery;161432
For individuals here who self-identify as pagan and include Buddhist elements in their practice: are you eclectic or syncretic in your approach? What elements of Buddhism do you include? Why? Where did you learn them? Do you consider yourself aligned with any particular tradition?


I was first introduced to Buddhism as a teenager when I was living in the Philippines with an ethnic Chinese family. I was a baby!pagan and a Catholic, and I was fascinated by my host mother's shrine to Kuan Yin. She regularly gave her fruit and incense, especially on Sunday mornings before we went to Mass. She taught me to pray to Kuan Yin too and to make offerings.

Once I returned home I wasn't able to do much until I got to college, where I studied Buddhism in academic classes as well as attending meditation on campus. College was the first time I was able to do and study whatever the hell I wanted (I grew up in a small town without a lot of resources) and so I was also pursuing other things at the same time or in quick succession. IIRC the Buddhism organization on campus was Chan specifically; I don't necessarily subscribe strictly to Chan teachings,

When I practice Buddhism it does tend to share a Taoist influence; I pray primarily to Kuan Yin but I have other bodhisattva and Chinese gods on my altars. I practice lovingkindness meditation on my own and attend a Buddhist meditation and discussion group at the UU church regularly. I don't currently attend a temple; I haven't found one in Portland that works with my schedule with the baby. I'd like to do that again eventually, though. I interact with Hindu gods sometimes in a Hindu context and sometimes in a Buddhist one; I'm more comfortable with the Buddhist but the Hindu has been creeping in around the edges more.

Quote
I personally am not sure Buddhism takes well to most attempts at eclecticism, though I am convinced it is excellent in syncretic blends, with the usual disclaimer that creating a syncretic cohesion between two or more traditions is hard.

 
Chinese Buddhism tends to have a wavery history in relation to Confucianism and Taoism. There was borrowing, there was persecuting in various directions, and at this point it's rather difficult to separate them for the layman, IMO. They have already synchronized their metaphorical watches, and the ship has sailed.

I am curious, since you studied in Japan - everything I've read about lay Japanese religion has stated that it's very common for people to be both Buddhist and Shinto. Did you see that in action there at all, or was that not your experience? Do you feel it's more eclectic or syncretic in that case?
Hail Mara, Lady of Good Things!
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Redfaery

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Re: Paganism and Buddhism: Syncreticism and Eclecticism
« Reply #3 on: October 07, 2014, 07:31:42 am »
Quote from: Jack;161435
I am curious, since you studied in Japan - everything I've read about lay Japanese religion has stated that it's very common for people to be both Buddhist and Shinto. Did you see that in action there at all, or was that not your experience? Do you feel it's more eclectic or syncretic in that case?

 
Totally syncretic, and it works beautifully. They've had 1500 years of practice. ;) Shinto itself only came to be defined once Buddhism arrived, because before then, there was no idea of it as a cohesive, unified body of tradition. Really, there wouldn't be until the middle ages, and in large part it was codified due to its contacts with institutional Buddhism. Shinto and Buddhism in Japan were historically inseparable.

It was only in the Meiji period that they were forcibly divorced, and in many instances, the dividing lines the government chose in this event were totally artificial. Shinto Shrines and Buddhist temples both suffered enormously from the creation of State Shinto. Plenty of shrines withered away because they didn't fit the State's nationalistic narrative of a pure, Japanese religion. And Buddhism...well, Buddhism just got screwed.

For what it's worth, Buddhism takes really well to syncreticization with indigenous folk animisms, like Shinto and Bon, that aren't very well organized or structured. My theory is that this is because it's so shiny. :D: Shinto, for example, never really had a unified theory of eschatology, despite the stories in the Kojiki and Nihongi. Even though those texts talk of Yomi, the grim land of the grave doesn't show up in any other sources and has distinctly Chinese flavorings. It was never a popular idea at any level of society. So Buddhism's well developed scheme of the afterlife made it really popular, because that was a vacancy in native tradition.
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Gilbride

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Re: Paganism and Buddhism: Syncreticism and Eclecticism
« Reply #4 on: October 07, 2014, 09:05:11 am »
Quote from: Redfaery;161432
For individuals here who self-identify as pagan and include Buddhist elements in their practice: are you eclectic or syncretic in your approach? [/I]

 
I've been strongly influenced by Buddhism, but am not a Buddhist even though I accept the Mahayana interpretation of reality for the most part. The way I put it is that I think Buddhism is probably correct, but I personally happen to be a pagan.

Jack

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Re: Paganism and Buddhism: Syncreticism and Eclecticism
« Reply #5 on: October 07, 2014, 10:59:08 am »
Quote from: Redfaery;161443
For what it's worth, Buddhism takes really well to syncreticization with indigenous folk animisms, like Shinto and Bon, that aren't very well organized or structured. My theory is that this is because it's so shiny. :D:

Huh, based on that description, I would expect it to work really well in an "eclectic" situation as well, since many pagans similarly have gods and specific practices but their beliefs are not very ordered or they have gaps in their theology. That is very much the role it and Taoism played for me, anyway. I usually think of eclecticism as the micro equivalent to the macro, societal adaptation usually recognized as syncretism. What do you think is the difference, then?
Hail Mara, Lady of Good Things!
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Redfaery

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Re: Paganism and Buddhism: Syncreticism and Eclecticism
« Reply #6 on: October 07, 2014, 12:43:33 pm »
Quote from: Jack;161466
Huh, based on that description, I would expect it to work really well in an "eclectic" situation as well, since many pagans similarly have gods and specific practices but their beliefs are not very ordered or they have gaps in their theology. That is very much the role it and Taoism played for me, anyway. I usually think of eclecticism as the micro equivalent to the macro, societal adaptation usually recognized as syncretism. What do you think is the difference, then?
I think it depends on how you define "eclectic" vs. "Syncretic." To me, eclectic is lots of different bits that are in their own places, while syncreticism is different bits that work together.

I should clarify that I don't think it's impossible to be an eclectic Buddhist. It's certainly not as hard as being an eclectic Christian! But in my opinion it's easy to wander into culturally - appropriative territory...ESPECIALLY when you're talking about esoteric Buddhism.
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Jack

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Re: Paganism and Buddhism: Syncreticism and Eclecticism
« Reply #7 on: October 07, 2014, 02:00:14 pm »
Well, I would like to think my practice is a cohesive whole, but I definitely think of myself as eclectic rather than syncretic. ;) I honor Mara differently from Kuan Yin than from Loki, though, so YMMV.

Quote from: Redfaery;161482
But in my opinion it's easy to wander into culturally - appropriative territory...ESPECIALLY when you're talking about esoteric Buddhism.

Just to check, are you using esoteric here in the sense of Tibetan and Tibetan-derived Buddhism, or are you using it in some other way?

I usually think of cultural appropriation coming into play more with closed religions - when access to the religion is limited, taking what you're not given is definitely appropriative. However, since Buddhism is traditionally happy to spread and to be adapted into local practice, I think the bar for appropriation is definitely higher than it is for, say, Vodun or something similar.
Hail Mara, Lady of Good Things!
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Redfaery

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Re: Paganism and Buddhism: Syncreticism and Eclecticism
« Reply #8 on: October 07, 2014, 02:17:18 pm »
Quote from: Jack;161499
Well, I would like to think my practice is a cohesive whole, but I definitely think of myself as eclectic rather than syncretic. ;) I honor Mara differently from Kuan Yin than from Loki, though, so YMMV.



Just to check, are you using esoteric here in the sense of Tibetan and Tibetan-derived Buddhism, or are you using it in some other way?

I usually think of cultural appropriation coming into play more with closed religions - when access to the religion is limited, taking what you're not given is definitely appropriative. However, since Buddhism is traditionally happy to spread and to be adapted into local practice, I think the bar for appropriation is definitely higher than it is for, say, Vodun or something similar.
Again, I wasn't saying it was impossible, so if I gave that impression, I apologize. You're right that it's much, much harder to appropriate from Buddhism since they will essentially hand you their teachings, but it's still not impossible to do that, either.

That's where the distinction between esoteric and exoteric comes in. That's what I was referring to. The stuff people learn in books, meditation classes, etc. Is exoteric Buddhism.

Esoteric Buddhism is heavily associated with Tibetan Buddhism, but this is misleading. Tibetan Buddhism also has plenty of exoteric elements. Furthermore, Tendai also has esoteric teachings, as does the Japanese school Shingon.

As I said earlier, you can't claim to practice esoteric Buddhism - Tantra - any more easily than you can claim to be a Gardnerian High Priestess. You don't just read books and teach yourself. There's initiation and oaths of secrecy involved.
KARMA: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Jack

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Re: Paganism and Buddhism: Syncreticism and Eclecticism
« Reply #9 on: October 07, 2014, 03:44:44 pm »
Quote from: Redfaery;161504
Esoteric Buddhism is heavily associated with Tibetan Buddhism, but this is misleading. Tibetan Buddhism also has plenty of exoteric elements. Furthermore, Tendai also has esoteric teachings, as does the Japanese school Shingon.


I'm glad I asked for clarification then! I've often heard 'esoteric Buddhism' used as a translation for Vajrayana specifically, which would include Tendai and Shingon, right? But I wanted to check whether you were using it as a specific term, like a translation for Vajrayana, or simply in the more common definition of 'opposite of exoteric'.

I feel like you're using it for Vajrayana, correct? I just want to make sure because usually I would refer to Vajrayana in comparison to Mahayana or Theravada, not in comparison to 'Buddhism you learn from books or meditation classes'.

Though meditation classes and dharma talks are what most of the temples I've visited offer, including the Tibetan temple in Portland. So a meditation class offered by a Vajrayana temple would appear to be exoteric esoteric Buddhism! ;) Surely you see the source of my confusion, right?

Quote
As I said earlier, you can't claim to practice esoteric Buddhism - Tantra - any more easily than you can claim to be a Gardnerian High Priestess. You don't just read books and teach yourself. There's initiation and oaths of secrecy involved.

 
I think it'd be more in line with how you shouldn't claim to be a lineaged Garnerican Wiccan if you haven't been initiated? High Priestess seems to me more equivalent to being a monk or something like that. Since you mentioned wanting to take refuge in Tendai, I assume it's not difficult to be welcomed in, you just have to pursue it. Is that correct? Is it sort of like Catholicism, where you have to study and be initiated? The KCC temple offers refuge ceremonies semi-regularly, I know. So if I got my butt down there more regularly - and I really would like to because they do Chenrezig weekly - then I'd be able to claim I practiced Vajrayana and therefore esoteric Buddhism. Because I was doing it.
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Redfaery

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Re: Paganism and Buddhism: Syncreticism and Eclecticism
« Reply #10 on: October 07, 2014, 04:08:03 pm »
Quote from: Jack;161521
I'm glad I asked for clarification then! I've often heard 'esoteric Buddhism' used as a translation for Vajrayana specifically, which would include Tendai and Shingon, right? But I wanted to check whether you were using it as a specific term, like a translation for Vajrayana, or simply in the more common definition of 'opposite of exoteric'.

I feel like you're using it for Vajrayana, correct? I just want to make sure because usually I would refer to Vajrayana in comparison to Mahayana or Theravada, not in comparison to 'Buddhism you learn from books or meditation classes'.

Though meditation classes and dharma talks are what most of the temples I've visited offer, including the Tibetan temple in Portland. So a meditation class offered by a Vajrayana temple would appear to be exoteric esoteric Buddhism! ;) Surely you see the source of my confusion, right?


 
I think it'd be more in line with how you shouldn't claim to be a lineaged Garnerican Wiccan if you haven't been initiated? High Priestess seems to me more equivalent to being a monk or something like that. Since you mentioned wanting to take refuge in Tendai, I assume it's not difficult to be welcomed in, you just have to pursue it. Is that correct? Is it sort of like Catholicism, where you have to study and be initiated? The KCC temple offers refuge ceremonies semi-regularly, I know. So if I got my butt down there more regularly - and I really would like to because they do Chenrezig weekly - then I'd be able to claim I practiced Vajrayana and therefore esoteric Buddhism. Because I was doing it.

 
I feel there's some confusion about the terms here. Vajrayana is used to refer to certain schools of Tibetan Buddhism, especially Tibetan Tantra. Tendai and Shingon are Mahayana. Shingon is esoteric by default. Tendai also has esoteric material, but I do not currently study it, because I have no one to teach me.

I feel the comparison to Catholicism is good, but as I said, a better one is to Traditional Wicca, since oaths of secrecy are usually involved. One does have to distinguish between plain old deity meditations and actual Tantra, which are more along the lines of magico-religious rituals. There are plenty of Deity meditation practices that are "Outer Court" so to speak.

And you're right. Buddhists aren't about to exclude promising students. But not everyone actually seeks out proper instruction.;)
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Jack

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Re: Paganism and Buddhism: Syncreticism and Eclecticism
« Reply #11 on: October 07, 2014, 04:21:40 pm »
Quote from: Redfaery;161524
I feel there's some confusion about the terms here. Vajrayana is used to refer to certain schools of Tibetan Buddhism, especially Tibetan Tantra. Tendai and Shingon are Mahayana. Shingon is esoteric by default. Tendai also has esoteric material, but I do not currently study it, because I have no one to teach me.

 
I sometimes see Tendai and Shingon referred to as 'schools of Vajrayana' (for example, Wikipedia does it) and Vajrayana is specifically referred to as 'esoteric Buddhism' so that's where my confusion came from.
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Redfaery

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Re: Paganism and Buddhism: Syncreticism and Eclecticism
« Reply #12 on: October 07, 2014, 04:29:29 pm »
Quote from: Jack;161526
I sometimes see Tendai and Shingon referred to as 'schools of Vajrayana' (for example, Wikipedia does it) and Vajrayana is specifically referred to as 'esoteric Buddhism' so that's where my confusion came from.
Eh. The terms Vajrayana and Mahayana are blurry. Vajrayana is indeed esoteric by default, but it usually refers to Tibetan esoteric methods. Shingon and Tendai esotericism is sometimes Tantric, but not always. In fact, to confuse things even more Shingon and Tendai esotericism is often referred to as "Mantrayana" for its reliance on magico-religious incantations.
KARMA: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Iris Melody

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Re: Paganism and Buddhism: Syncreticism and Eclecticism
« Reply #13 on: October 07, 2014, 04:46:50 pm »
Quote from: Redfaery;161432
A discussion in another thread (which did not go well for me) got me thinking about the way Buddhism is perceived in Paganism, and more generally about the way existing world religions are either approached eclectically or syncretically.

I should start off with the disclaimer that I consider myself first and foremost a Buddhist dedicated to Sarasvati at this point. I don't consider myself pagan so much as a "pagan-flavored mystic," in that I interact with Sarasvati and other spirits in ways that are best understood by individuals who tend to self-define as pagan.

For individuals here who self-identify as pagan and include Buddhist elements in their practice: are you eclectic or syncretic in your approach? What elements of Buddhism do you include? Why? Where did you learn them? Do you consider yourself aligned with any particular tradition?

I personally am not sure Buddhism takes well to most attempts at eclecticism, though I am convinced it is excellent in syncretic blends, with the usual disclaimer that creating a syncretic cohesion between two or more traditions is hard.

 
I consider myself simply pagan and searching for the right path but do include some teachings from books written by a Buddhist monk in my way of life. But these are teachings he said work for anyone of any faith, not just Buddhist. If you're talking about the thread I'm thinking of I mentioned some of it there. But no, while I'm leaning toward an eclectic pagan path I do not consider Buddhism part of my eclecticism despite the practices I am doing.

The elements I include center around mindfulness. I also use a mala bracelet when I feel a panic attack coming on and I can get myself out of the situation and somewhere quiet. I move through the beads, saying in my head a mantra from one of Nhat Hanh's books while trying to keep my breathing steady. What drew me to Nhat Hanh's books was learning that mindfulness was one of the teachings in DBT. My psychiatrist wanted me in a weekly DBT group but I said no because I did not think, for me, doing DBT in a group would be beneficial (not to mention adding a weekly group to my already hectic schedule would have been difficult). But when I told her I was reading books on mindfulness and using a mantra for my panic attacks she strongly approved.

And no, I do not consider myself aligned with a tradition as I am not Buddhist. I did consider the path but it is not for me for a few reasons.
“I am still so naïve; I know pretty much what I like and dislike; but please, don’t ask me who I am. A passionate, fragmentary girl, maybe?” ― Sylvia Plath

Redfaery

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Re: Paganism and Buddhism: Syncreticism and Eclecticism
« Reply #14 on: October 09, 2014, 12:28:19 pm »
Quote from: Redfaery;161432
A discussion in another thread (which did not go well for me) got me thinking about the way Buddhism is perceived in Paganism, and more generally about the way existing world religions are either approached eclectically or syncretically.

 
Valentine's post in that other thread got me thinking about this again. I want to ask y'all about the line between "borrowing" and "appropriation" in regards to Buddhism and other Asian religions such as Hinduism and Shinto.

In the West, Buddhism is very often packaged as a solitary, secularized philosophical pursuit. American Zen is especially guilty of doing this, and Zen in America is...not much like Japanese Zen or Chinese Chan, which is often overtly iconoclastic, but certainly not secular. Zen and Chan monks still argued over the correct interpretations of sutras, for example, and the founder of one of the major schools of Zen considered himself a good Tendai believer until his dying day.

It's really hard to "appropriate" from a religion that is handed to you, but I honestly feel like there is an undercurrent of white privilege that causes the secular, philosophical Buddhism of the West to be viewed as more valid than the communal, exuberantly religious tradition that is interwoven with the cultures of Tibet, Nepal, Vietnam, Thailand, Japan and other nations.

To be clear, I am not making accusations of anyone or calling any person out. I am simply stating an observation based on my own experiences in America and Japan. I know I have no right to declare anyone else's Buddhism better than my own, but I wish to discuss the more problematic aspects of Buddhism's spread in the West and in America in particular.
KARMA: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

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