Tuesday, September 21, 2010

D'uh! Of course many Americans think Buddhism is a cult! Look how non-Buddhists talk about us and then look at our "luminaries" and what they say & do ...



While researching their forthcoming book about American religion, the Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam and his colleagues polled on this hypothetical question: Say a group of Buddhists wanted to build a large temple in your community. How would you feel? Putnam & Co. asked about Buddhists because, they had discovered, Buddhists are one of the least popular religious groups in the country. People like Buddhists less than they do atheists and Mormons—and only slightly more than they do Muslims. Like Muslims, Buddhists “do not have a place in what has come to be called America’s Judeo-Christian framework,” Putnam and his coauthor, David Campbell, write in American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us. The book comes out next week...

 OK, to the point: look how Buddhism gets portrayed in the US media:






And it wasn't just Larry King...






To my knowledge, this is the only time someone who was referred to as a Zen practitioner  has been portrayed in American TV media. (OK, let's leave out Phil Jackson. And, OK, I remember Joan Halifax was on Firing Line a couple of decades ago, if my memory's correct.  )

And of course...




OK, he's your kindly Tibetan uncle.  But, um, frankly, he might have been a great poet, but this guy was scary to a large portion of America raised on Swanson TV dinners and Jell-o:



I've always  wanted to write a satire and/or comedic film adaptation of Howl, but I digress...

Elsewhere in America,  there's Terry Jones,  and the omnipresent availability of fundamentalist Christian media in America. I don't want to spend much time getting into that; I've done that quite a bit here; even correcting atheists and "metaphysical naturalists" on their misconceptions about Buddhism.

There are distortions aplenty these days by the right wing, the left wing, and the mainstream media about Buddhism in America.  There are like distortions about Buddhism written in this very blog about Buddhism in America.

Look, quite simply if  American Buddhists want a better image of Buddhism in America, they're going to have to do a better job of  presenting themselves as Buddhists in America.  So, among other things, it might be a good idea for American Buddhists to take a noticeable step back  from the loonies, the radicals, the folks in MSIA, the folks in the Lenz Foundation, and all that hooey. I'm talking to you recipients of the largess of the Lenz Foundation, and those folks that don't have a problem with the Huffington Post's censorship policies.

5 comments:

Kyle said...

Well shit...WELL SAID.

Lenz interview....UGH

No wonder people think we are a cult, christ!

Mumon said...

Kyle:

I posted a comment to that effect on Tricycle...crickets...

Chana said...

Well, for one thing people are not "Buddhists". They might practice some form of Buddhist philosophy/psychology, but they are not a noun. All humans are a process. An impermanent process at that. So the first thing to do is stop labeling. The next thing to do is stop relating all your experience to non-western language. That is all just an ego trip. Everyone can find a way to express them self with the English language. We do not need a precursor like Dharma, Zazen, Samadhi, etc. If you do not want to be likened to a cult, stop acting like your in one. Practicing some esoteric foreign religion is bound to get you labeled a freak. Join the revolution that is taking control of our own fate, and start communicating in English, stop following professional priests and teachers, and find out your own Buddha nature. Then act spontaneously where you really are. Not some idea of where and what you are. "If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it's a duck." :)

Mumon said...

Chana:

Well, for one thing people are not "Buddhists". They might practice some form of Buddhist philosophy/psychology, but they are not a noun.All humans are a process. An impermanent process at that. So the first thing to do is stop labeling.

We - people who have taken refuge - i.e., Buddhists, know that, but we understand that "Buddhism" refers to the set of practices and beliefs, such as they are, that are taken up by people who have taken refuge.

Of course we don't take the abstract for the real, but language is a convention, a protocol. And so to say "I am a Buddhist" is not to objectify myself so much as refer to myself as an (amateurish) practitioner of those things which are reputed to transcend suffering.

So I'm a Buddhist.

The next thing to do is stop relating all your experience to non-western language. That is all just an ego trip. Everyone can find a way to express them self with the English language.

Easier said than done; I know that from my experience of relating my practice as an employee to my manager without ever bringing up my practice.

And heh- what's the Western term for koan practice?

Seriously, I practice in a Rinzai tradition and that's as Western, as far as I'm concerned, as the Slavic Evangelical Church or the Coptic Egyptian Churches. (Actually I think we Zen Buddhists outnumber the Copts in the US.)

Chana said...

You say "easier said than done". Nah, not really. It just takes a commitment to be yourself and tell the truth. To not hide behind the "eastern terminology"......anyway here is what Zen master Bankei thought about koan study...
As Bankei saw it, the whole approach of koan Zen was hopelessly contrived. He rejected the need for familiarity with classical Chinese as an unnecessary encumbrance, and rejected the koan itself as artificial technique. The original koans, he argued, were not "models" but actual living events. The old masters had simply responded to particular situations that confronted them, naturally accomadating themselves to the needs of the students involved. That was the business of any Zen teacher, to meet each situation on its own terms. There was no need to make people study the words of ancient Chinese monks when you could simply have them look at their own "cases", the way in which the Unborn was at work here and now in the actual circumstances of there lives. This is what Bankei called his "direct" teaching, as opposed to koan practice, which he referred disparagingly as "studying old waste paper." The koan, Bankei said, was merely a device, and teachers who relied on it, or on any other technique, were practicing "Devices Zen" Why rely on a device, he argued, when you could have the thing itself?