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Author Topic: Paganism and Buddhism: Syncreticism and Eclecticism  (Read 3699 times)

Iris Melody

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Re: Paganism and Buddhism: Syncreticism and Eclecticism
« Reply #15 on: October 09, 2014, 02:58:20 pm »
Quote from: Redfaery;161694
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.

Culture appropriation when it comes to religion is a complicated subject for me I have mixed emotions on. I also am not sure where I should stand, being a white American. So instead of rambling a bunch of incoherent thoughts, being that's all I have, I have a couple questions.

What do you (or anyone else) think of Thich Nhat Hanh, who is a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, writing so many books and offering teachings for anyone of any faith to practice? Is he supporting appropriation of his own religion and culture?

I have no thoughts yet as I honestly do not know. Perhaps if I have some down time later I may look and see if anyone has written any essays or blog posts that offer answers to these questions.


Edit: I say I have only incoherent thoughts then later no thoughts at all. Ugh, forgive my post being all over the place. I shouldn't come here and ask questions so soon after a rigorous literature interpretation class.
« Last Edit: October 09, 2014, 03:03:03 pm by Iris Melody »
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Redfaery

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Re: Paganism and Buddhism: Syncreticism and Eclecticism
« Reply #16 on: October 09, 2014, 04:59:46 pm »
Quote from: Iris Melody;161700
What do you (or anyone else) think of Thich Nhat Hanh, who is a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, writing so many books and offering teachings for anyone of any faith to practice? Is he supporting appropriation of his own religion and culture?

I have no objection to Thich Nhat Hanh, or his books. Teaching the Dharma is teaching the Dharma. The problem to me is how his writings tend to be taken. They are essentially introductions to the most basic of Buddhistic concepts, and they are very much written with a Western audience in mind. A lot of what makes Buddhism function as a religion tends to get stripped out to make it "palatable" to Western tastes, and I've seen plenty of Westerners who make the assumption that the sanitized, secularized face of Buddhism presented by Zen in America is something other than an adaptation to Western cultural norms.
« Last Edit: October 09, 2014, 05:00:40 pm by Redfaery »
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 #17 on: October 09, 2014, 07:35:32 pm »
Quote from: Redfaery;161694
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.

 
I think that's a damn shame, personally. One of Buddhism's strengths is its adaptability, and I like that about it. I suppose it's inevitable that you'd find the branch you follow to be the "best" (or else why would you stick to it) but as Val pointed out, it's definitely a product of Western colonialism to think that non-religious Buddhism is more valid than religious Buddhism. As you noted, all dharma roads are one road, so non-religious and religious Buddhism are all headed for the same destination. ;)

I suppose at the same time, no matter how much time I spend with Kuan Yin, I'll never have been raised in China or India or Japan, so while we can do our best to study and appreciate those cultures and treat them respectfully, we're still Murican White Folks and have certain filters because of that. I was raised in an ask culture, and learning how guesser/hint culture worked when I was an exchange student was eye-opening. So I end up wondering if my practice could ever be the same as someone born and raised in China, even if I was one of those Americans who moved there and studied full-time at the Shaolin temple or something. Maybe if I'd joined the temple as a kid, but now? I'm pretty sure it'd be impossible to know I've got it right. Even though the dharma itself is not culture, even if I received formal transmission, I'd probably second-guess the hell out of it.

Ultimately the answer is that I don't know. I mean, there are things that are obviously over the line, like lecturing cradle Buddhists on how they don't understand their own religion, or claiming lineage that one isn't entitled to. But in terms of individual, inside-our-head practices? What I practice is probably looked at askance by the sort of Western Buddhist who would say Eastern Buddhism is 'backward' - with my statues and the gods and the ancestors. But I would be a tool if I was asking my Chinese friends whether I get the Friend Of Color Seal Of Approval. And if I went to a lama or a sifu and asked if my Buddhism was appropriative, I'd probably get asked why I was worried about it and advice on how to strengthen my practice. So I do my best to read and follow the precepts as I understand them, and I know I fuck up, and I just... keep doing it. Chop wood, carry water, I guess.
Hail Mara, Lady of Good Things!
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Redfaery

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Re: Paganism and Buddhism: Syncreticism and Eclecticism
« Reply #18 on: October 10, 2014, 06:14:47 am »
Quote from: Jack;161709
I think that's a damn shame, personally. One of Buddhism's strengths is its adaptability, and I like that about it. I suppose it's inevitable that you'd find the branch you follow to be the "best" (or else why would you stick to it) but as Val pointed out, it's definitely a product of Western colonialism to think that non-religious Buddhism is more valid than religious Buddhism. As you noted, all dharma roads are one road, so non-religious and religious Buddhism are all headed for the same destination. ;)

I suppose at the same time, no matter how much time I spend with Kuan Yin, I'll never have been raised in China or India or Japan, so while we can do our best to study and appreciate those cultures and treat them respectfully, we're still Murican White Folks and have certain filters because of that. I was raised in an ask culture, and learning how guesser/hint culture worked when I was an exchange student was eye-opening. So I end up wondering if my practice could ever be the same as someone born and raised in China, even if I was one of those Americans who moved there and studied full-time at the Shaolin temple or something. Maybe if I'd joined the temple as a kid, but now? I'm pretty sure it'd be impossible to know I've got it right. Even though the dharma itself is not culture, even if I received formal transmission, I'd probably second-guess the hell out of it.

Ultimately the answer is that I don't know. I mean, there are things that are obviously over the line, like lecturing cradle Buddhists on how they don't understand their own religion, or claiming lineage that one isn't entitled to. But in terms of individual, inside-our-head practices? What I practice is probably looked at askance by the sort of Western Buddhist who would say Eastern Buddhism is 'backward' - with my statues and the gods and the ancestors. But I would be a tool if I was asking my Chinese friends whether I get the Friend Of Color Seal Of Approval. And if I went to a lama or a sifu and asked if my Buddhism was appropriative, I'd probably get asked why I was worried about it and advice on how to strengthen my practice. So I do my best to read and follow the precepts as I understand them, and I know I fuck up, and I just... keep doing it. Chop wood, carry water, I guess.


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KARMA: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Redfaery

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Re: Paganism and Buddhism: Syncreticism and Eclecticism
« Reply #19 on: October 10, 2014, 06:26:30 am »
Quote from: Jack;161709
Ultimately the answer is that I don't know. I mean, there are things that are obviously over the line, like lecturing cradle Buddhists on how they don't understand their own religion, or claiming lineage that one isn't entitled to.

The thing is, both these occurrences are actually depressingly common. The latter is surprisingly easy to find here in the West...have you checked out this thread on Dharma Wheel? It's about spurious Tendai teachers in the west. Some of these people are cultural privilege in action.

All vehicles may be one vehicle, but people should know what vehicle they're really getting into!
« Last Edit: October 10, 2014, 06:29:22 am by Redfaery »
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 #20 on: October 10, 2014, 06:30:39 am »
Quote from: Redfaery;161724
The thing is, both these occurrences are actually depressingly common. The latter is surprisingly easy to find here in the West...have you checked out this thread on Dharma Wheel?

Yeah, but aside from calling it out if I see it, there's not much I or anyone can do to stop it. (Better folks than me have tried.) I thought you were asking about the practices of people here and how we look for that line; I'm sorry if I misunderstood you.
Hail Mara, Lady of Good Things!
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Redfaery

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Re: Paganism and Buddhism: Syncreticism and Eclecticism
« Reply #21 on: October 10, 2014, 07:14:20 am »
Quote from: Jack;161725
Yeah, but aside from calling it out if I see it, there's not much I or anyone can do to stop it. (Better folks than me have tried.) I thought you were asking about the practices of people here and how we look for that line; I'm sorry if I misunderstood you.

 
No, you understood me well enough. I don't think I understood your answer very clearly. I just wanted to be sure we were in agreement on the fact that yes, there is icky stuff out there.
KARMA: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Gilbride

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Re: Paganism and Buddhism: Syncreticism and Eclecticism
« Reply #22 on: October 10, 2014, 08:33:16 am »
Quote from: Iris Melody;161700
What do you (or anyone else) think of Thich Nhat Hanh, who is a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, writing so many books and offering teachings for anyone of any faith to practice? Is he supporting appropriation of his own religion and culture?


I don't think this fits the definition of cultural appropriation. Buddhism is not a culturally specific faith, otherwise it would only exist in one small part of India.

When someone claims an esoteric lineage they don't actually have, the issue IMO is not cultural appropriation. The issue is that they are lying. I would try to avoid getting my spiritual guidance from a known liar.

Also, some of those esoteric practices are not supposed to be safe without guidance, so if the person offering the guidance isn't legit then the practice could be psychologically dangerous.

Ghost235

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Re: Paganism and Buddhism: Syncreticism and Eclecticism
« Reply #23 on: October 27, 2014, 09:24:13 am »
Quote from: Redfaery;161432


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 would say that depending the school a syncretic blend would not only be workable but would even be required.  

From my understanding when the Buddha started preaching he wasn't at all interested in starting a religion as we understand it today.  His goal was to get people meditating so that they became realized and stopped reincarnating.  Fin.  

This meant that a lot of questions that we would consider "religious" he not only didn't address but even if he was directly asked he wouldn't answer.  Not even to say that he wouldn't answer it.  

This covered questions like the nature of the universe and (this is something that bothers me to no end personally) what happens to the Buddha when he dies.

For the people the Buddha was talking to this worked out pretty ok.  They didn't need these questions answered(they got at least a base idea from growing up in one of the constituents of what later became Hinduism) and were basically looking for a way to get enlightened without having to reincarnate dozens of times in order to climb the caste ladder and spend a final life as an ascetic.  

Because of this the core concept of Buddhism engaged with whatever culture it interacted with in order to deal with these questions as, unlike the people that the Buddha directly preached to, most people consider the answers to the unanswered questions extremely important.

In the cases where those questions are unanswered you could easily fill in pretty much anything you would like.  On the other hand, those schools of Buddhism where those questions were answered quite some time ago would be much more challenging to fiddle with I think.

Ghost235

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Re: Paganism and Buddhism: Syncreticism and Eclecticism
« Reply #24 on: October 27, 2014, 09:47:34 am »
Quote from: Ghost235;163523
I would say that depending the school a syncretic blend would not only be workable but would even be required.  

From my understanding when the Buddha started preaching he wasn't at all interested in starting a religion as we understand it today.  His goal was to get people meditating so that they became realized and stopped reincarnating.  Fin.  

This meant that a lot of questions that we would consider "religious" he not only didn't address but even if he was directly asked he wouldn't answer.  Not even to say that he wouldn't answer it.  

This covered questions like the nature of the universe and (this is something that bothers me to no end personally) what happens to the Buddha when he dies.

For the people the Buddha was talking to this worked out pretty ok.  They didn't need these questions answered(they got at least a base idea from growing up in one of the constituents of what later became Hinduism) and were basically looking for a way to get enlightened without having to reincarnate dozens of times in order to climb the caste ladder and spend a final life as an ascetic.  

Because of this the core concept of Buddhism engaged with whatever culture it interacted with in order to deal with these questions as, unlike the people that the Buddha directly preached to, most people consider the answers to the unanswered questions extremely important.

In the cases where those questions are unanswered you could easily fill in pretty much anything you would like.  On the other hand, those schools of Buddhism where those questions were answered quite some time ago would be much more challenging to fiddle with I think.

 
By the way, This wikipedia article(https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_unanswered_questions) goes into more detail about the 14 unanswered questions for those who are curious.

Jainarayan

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Re: Paganism and Buddhism: Syncreticism and Eclecticism
« Reply #25 on: October 27, 2014, 10:49:48 am »
Quote from: Iris Melody;161529
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. ...


Fwiw, this sounds very much like my take on it. I fully identify as Asatru, but Buddhist teachings, i.e. those of the Buddha himself, apply to any faith. Without the later arguments over vegetarianism, anatta, rebirth, etc., it comes down to skillful means, i.e. what gets the job done with the least offense and harm to someone else (the burning house parable... lying is not always bad), compassion, mindfulness: those work in just about any path or religion.

Quote from: Iris Melody;161529
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. ...


Thich Nhat Hanh is very wise. :) I read Living Buddha, Living Christ, but I have not read the follow up book Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers. I am curious, if you don't mind answering: what is the mantra?
 
Quote from: Redfaery;161694
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.


If it works, it works. Upaya-kaushalya, skillful means to reach your goal. There are people (Hindus) on another site who get their jimmies rustled over the mere thought of mixing pantheons, syncretism and universalism. And then there are people who say as I did, if it works, it works. There was a discussion about Wiccans adopting Hindu deities, e.g. Shiva and Devi, or Lakshmi-Narayana as God and Goddess in Wicca. The only issue even I agreed with them on is changing the attributes of a Hindu god(dess) to fit into a different path. Don't let anyone tell you what should work for you, or that you are doing something wrong because it doesn't fit their world view.


Quote from: Redfaery;161694
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.


The cultural aspects are dicey imo. Some western Hindus adopt Indian culture lock, stock and barrel. One Canadian man and his wife went so far as to legally change their names to Hindu names. Not just Indian names, but the names of a god and goddess. They wear Indian dress exclusively to temple, they are strict vegetarians, they make annual pilgrimages to India, most of their social circle is Hindu. For some people that works. It doesn't work for me. I think Buddhism is different because it is not tied to any single ethnicity; it's a practice rather than a culture.

I hope I haven't totally misunderstood your questions and concerns in my responses. :o
śivāya vishnu rūpaya śivaḥ rūpaya vishnave
śivasya hridayam viṣṇur viṣṇoscha hridayam śivaḥ
Vishnu's appearance is Shiva; Shiva's appearance is Vishnu
Vishnu is the heart of Shiva; Shiva is the heart of Vishnu - Skandopanishad
 

Kyndyl

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Re: Paganism and Buddhism: Syncreticism and Eclecticism
« Reply #26 on: October 29, 2014, 07:02:46 pm »
Quote from: Redfaery;161482
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.

 


ok I was wondering about your definition between eclectic and syncretic..so here goes
-I first encountered buddhism when i was in high school and was looking at alternatives. Now.. I think I would consider myself a syncretic Buddhist. My path is a mix of Buddhist, Shamanism, Wicca, and Northern Tradition(Vanatru). A strange mix, but one that works for me. Buddhism adds elements such as meditation, the noble truths, 8 fold path, and other things. so it's an interesting mix.

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