Comments on “Inclusion, exclusion, unity and diversity”

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Sherab Dorgye 2011-06-19

“Although extreme modernism and extreme tradition may work well for some people, my guess is that most would be better served in the middle”

Why not a circle? A circle has no extremes, has no middle, has no beginning and no end. I love circles.

Namgyal Dorje 2011-06-19

Thanks for the links to Dharmavidya’s blog. Reading that has helped rationalise a number of different strands of thought that have been causing me some puzzlement. The eureka moment came when I realised that if I substituted the words ‘Liberal American’ Buddhism for ‘Western’ Buddhism everything made sense. I’m a Westerner, but a Limey. One of our uniquely annoying (or perhaps sometimes engaging) characteristics as Brits is that we are culturally inclined to be embarassed about things. The American cultural capacity to, say, stand in a circle and ‘Give yerselves a big round of applause’ for some perceived group achievement makes most Brits I know cringe, or at best roll their eyes and walk away tutting. Much of what I’m reading on your blog feels simply like a description of the American cultural appropriation of all forms of Buddhism. This is why every new liberal PC move by the Consensus has left me asking myself ‘Don’t these guys realise what they look like, acting in this way?’ Consensus (or ‘Liberal American’) Buddhism fails to be inclusive - in my eyes - because (i) it excludes non-Americans and (ii) Buddhism itself is no respecter of culture, thus the teachings themselves are naturally going to undermine such attempts by their very nature.

David Chapman 2011-06-20

@ Namgyal – your comment made me realize something I had missed even after reading Dharmavidya’s posts: The Consensus really is an American thing (though it describes itself as Western, because of course it wants to be as inclusive as possible).

The Triratna Order (formerly FWBO) is thoroughly modernist, but certainly not part of the Consensus. It might be very interesting to find out what Sangharakshita (Triratna’s founder) has said about it. Or what the major Consensus figures have said about the FWBO. And what happens when they try to spread their message in Britain. Darn, always more research to do…

Namgyal Dorje 2011-06-20

David - perhaps in fact Europe doesn’t matter at all to the Consensus. The Consensus is culturally American, with English as a first language. . . let’s look at the UK as a comparitor to start with since that’s not a bad potential fit with our fair cousins across the pond. If the figure of circa 2 million American Buddhists is correct, that is about 0.6% of the American population (310 million/wikipedia). The last British census had 150 thousand British Buddhists out of the 62 million population, or 0.2%. So, in raw numbers terms both as an absolute and as a proportion, the American Buddhist presence is notably larger. Then, let’s look at major traditions in Britain. In the UK the majority of converts are members of Triratna (already noted by you above) SGI and the New Kadam Tradition. As I understand it, none of these are members of (or invitees of) the Consensus. I understand the conference has included Stephen Batchelor, and Shenpen Hookham - but neither of them reflect major British Buddhist traditions in numerical terms. It wouldn’t surprise me if the organisers didn’t consider the maths of the matter when choosing their invitees, and had criteria other than ‘a representative sample’ in mind when deciding who to invite.

David Chapman 2011-06-20

“Europe doesn’t matter”: that might well be true. Re the statistics, though, a large majority of American Buddhists are Asian immigrants, who are not candidates for inclusion in the Consensus. So it’s not as lopsided as 2 million to 150k.

Many commentators have observed that “Maha Teachers” were not representative of anything other than the Consensus itself. Very interesting point that none of the three major UK Buddhist organizations were there, though. I wonder how Dharmavidya (David Brazier) ended up there. Probably the Council organizers mistakenly thought that his being a psychotherapist would make him sympathetic to their message.

NKT is definitely unwelcome in the Consensus. HH the Dalai Lama is a leader of the Consensus ex officio, which is sufficient to explain that.

I’d like to understand the relationship between Triratna and the Consensus, though. Triratna was the first modernist Western syncretic Buddhism, and although I don’t know a whole lot about it, it appears pretty thorough-going in its modernism. Why wouldn’t it be included?

Maybe because, as we know, Americans and Brits can never get along :-)

David Chapman 2011-06-20

About the Consensus in the UK. My impression is that most Buddhist newcomers there have absorbed a Consensus view of what Buddhism is, and need to be deprogrammed before they can learn anything else. Why do you think that is?

I would guess that American Consensus publications (Tricycle, Shambhala Sun) dominate the native UK Buddhist media. And a fully-modernized package simply makes sense to newcomers, who have unquestioned modernist assumptions about Life, The Universe, and Everything.

But then, why can’t the Consensus set up a UK branch?

Kate Gowen 2011-06-20

Hmm– the usefulness of my Lamas challenging, in all sorts of large and small, humorous and serious ways, this unreflecting ‘Californication’ of Buddhism has at last begun to dawn on me. For years, I was simply disturbed by the thought that, as a Boomer, born-and-raised Californian, educated at UC Berkeley in the 1960s– the crucible for so much of this ‘Consensus’– I was simply the apotheosis of an unsuitable candidate. Now I see that they were just illuminating what my default ‘Refuge’ might be. Seeing it as a matter of choice– I can actually choose!

Namgyal Dorje 2011-06-20

Regarding the UK & Consensus - Firstly media. There is no ‘Buddhist media’ in the UK except Tricycle, and that is only commonly available by mail order; it’s hardly a high street title here and I know very few folk who read it. The next option is books. If you go in any mainstream UK bookshop generally you find more titles on ‘self-help’ than on Dharma. My last check in the biggest mainstream store in Bristol saw just 20 titles on the shelf. Of course there are specialists. Aro Ling in Bristol (www.aro-ling.org) with its specialist Buddhist bookstore and a few hundred titles may actually have the largest and most eclectic range of titles available ‘off the shelf’ in any UK highstreet. Online of course there are a number of web-retailers, and a lot of older folk rely on Wisdom Books UK which has a vast and easily accessible range - once you know they exist. Maybe the main routes in are the web, and word of mouth, not the print media that the Consensus is strong in. Secondly, why can’t the Consensus succeed? Well, the 3 main traditions are as mentioned, and they are already on the outside what you’re describing. Maybe the Consensus formed too late to get a foothold. Secondly, there’s the whole American cultural thing going on, and Californian culture is quite alien to a lot of Brits. I’m not really sure.

Noah 2011-06-20

“One of our uniquely annoying (or perhaps sometimes engaging) characteristics as Brits is that we are culturally inclined to be embarassed about things. The American cultural capacity to, say, stand in a circle and ‘Give yerselves a big round of applause’ for some perceived group achievement makes most Brits I know cringe, or at best roll their eyes and walk away tutting.”

“Secondly, why can’t the Consensus succeed? Well, the 3 main traditions are as mentioned, and they are already on the outside what you’re describing. Maybe the Consensus formed too late to get a foothold. Secondly, there’s the whole American cultural thing going on, and Californian culture is quite alien to a lot of Brits. I’m not really sure.”

Maybe I should move to the UK. :)

Noah 2011-06-20

Let’s say we set up a way of defining things:

  1. What is the CLAIMED INTENTION?
    1a. What METHODS?
    1b. What RESULTS?

  2. What METHODS are ACTUALLY engaged in?

  3. What are the ACTUAL RESULTS?

<hr />

So, applying this to “Consensus”/”Western”/”Liberal American”/”Maha Teachers Council” Buddhism, we can ask:

  1. What is the CLAIMED INTENTION of the Maha Teachers Council?
    1a. Intended METHODS?
    1b. Intended RESULTS?

  2. What METHODS is the Maha Teacher Council ACTUALLY engaged in?

  3. What, so far, have been the ACTUAL RESULTS of the Maha Teachers Council?

I’d like to hear everyone’s ideas.

@Namgyal (sorry, there doesn’t seem to be a reply button) I think the circling up for round of applause/patting yourself on the back” thing is more a green meme thing within the American scene. I’m American and that sort of stuff makes me ill. It also amuses me as if you read the Sutras (I wonder if consensus Buddhists do) Sid was very much NOT a “Nice Buddhist.” He doesn’t come off as a jerk, but he’s not a simpering, spineless pansy either.

OMkara 2013-09-11

” [It was] essentially an ideological exercise in which large group pressure was mobilised to get one to identify with a liberal American agenda only distantly related to Buddhism.”

  • “Distantly related”? The liberal American agenda is not related to Buddhism at all.

    “There is still a pretty big divide between temples and teachers whose communities are of immigrants and those who are called convert Buddhists. I don’t know how to address this,”

  • Well, drop the liberal American agenda schtick and you just might get more of those magical minority Asians showing up.

FiveGhostFist 2014-07-13

Hi David,

Let me thank you for your very interesting blogs.

What do you mean by “politically correct”? In my experience, the phrase has two meanings:

1) It is used by leftists to refer to humorless bullies within their ranks.
2) It is used by rightists to refer to leftists.

What do you mean when you say you are politically incorrect? Do you tell rape jokes while wearing blackface?

FiveGhostFist 2014-07-13

“Well, drop the liberal American agenda schtick and you just might get more of those magical minority Asians showing up.”

But we ARE liberal Americans.

David Chapman 2014-07-13

Hi FiveGhostFist,

In this post, “politically correct” probably meant something like your #2. Consensus Buddhism excludes rightists. They are specifically not welcome. There’s an active political movement right now to prevent rightists from practicing mindfulness meditation. It must not be taught in “corporations,” in the military, or without a large helping of “social justice” indoctrination as the main course.

(Note: I am not a rightist. I’m not a leftist either, nor in-between.)

In this reply to you from earlier today, I probably meant something closer to #1. But, maybe it’s something more like

3) A collection of moral values, based in 1800s Christianity and secularized in the 20th century, as commonly applied: in a narrow, judgmental, exclusivist, holier-than-thou, self-righteous, and hateful way.

Admin 2015-02-26

The best example of excluded Buddhists is the 969 Movement http://969movement.org/

Johnny 2015-09-16

I have tried to like Buddhism and all those eastern tai chi things but I didn’t like the kind of people who attended these groups. Is it wrong to feel like this?

I now try to learn these things in my house.

Ian 2016-06-02

Isn’t chanting a form of mantra meditation? What do you mean by meditation?

The Chan Buddhism of Master Nan certainly includes meditation, and he taught anapana and mantra meditation to his students. He came of age in the early 20th century, so it seems that the Chinese traditional Buddhism he learned (mixed with Taoism, mind you) included meditation.

Ian 2016-06-02

Ah, my apologies. Obviously, someone who learned in the early 20th would be a student of the reformation. I haven’t seen any of your articles referring to Chan, but presumably some of the same processes were occurring in China.

Still, from what I’ve read of Nan, this is not Protestant Buddhism: magic is still there, the ultimate goal is to become a Buddha, and a Buddha is a god, in effect.

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