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#1 2007-07-05 23:17:06

Seth
Member
From: Scarsdale, NY
Registered: 2005-10-24
Posts: 270

Buddhist Community?

I apologize that this post has everything to do with Buddhism and Zen Buddhism, and nothing to do with Shakuhachi - but I would really appreciate this community's take on a couple of issues.

When I read the original early words of the Buddha (before the organizers and preachers got a hold of his lectures and created a religion built for mass market appeal) I am amazed at how inightful and, dare I say, correct he was. 

So when I think about the original message of the Buddha I feel a simple desire to become a Buddhist - albeit a highly reformed and modern one by the standards of most contemporary buddhist communities.

However- it seems that in the United States there really is no Buddhist community to be a part of.  I have gone to a many Buddhist events, and meditations centers, and it seems the only community to be found is focused on a group of people sitting in a room together in total silence and then going home.  And perhaps there is some lecture by some monk or advanced meditator.  But the lecturing is always about how to make ourselves feel better  by controlling our desires.  Which is fine, but it seems Buddhism, at least here, is all about people focusing on themselves and that there is very little about the community - about connecting with others, and about being connected to the world in a constructive way. 

And this leaves me thinking that there really is no reason to be part of a Buddhist community.  I can just as easily sit in silence and observe my breath here in the comfort of my home as in a fancy retreat center in Upstate New York of California.  In fact, I probably will be less distracted in my living room than elsewhere where I won't be confronted with strange people and strange food.

The only reason to be part of a formal group is if that group is playing some positive role in the world - at least for its members if not for society.  And I am sorry to say that I do not see the Buddhist commuity in the United States filling this role.  It does not seem supportive of people's need for community, for providing a narrative for people's life cycle (Is there even such a thing as a Buddhist marriage ceremony?) and I have never heard of the Buddhist community here taking a pro-active role on any social action issue.  (For instance: I haven't heard of any American Buddhists playing a role in the Save Darfur campaign.)  In fact it seems that Buddhism encourages people not to be concerned with others and community, and to instead detach into personal bliss and disregard for wordly cares and concerns.   

I apologize if this is overly critical, or if these comments are rooted in ignorance, but I have developed a love hate relationship with Buddhism that can be summarized as:  great for the individual, bad for community.

Would love to hear this community's thoughts on this issue.  Thanks

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#2 2007-07-06 00:48:00

jb
Member
Registered: 2005-10-09
Posts: 24

Re: Buddhist Community?

Hi.

Buddhist community is called 'Sangha'.  It means first the community of monks, then all Buddhists.

Buddhism asks us to leave the world and become homeless beggars.  Nobody does this any more, so everyone is compromised.

I'm a Buddhist.  I've taken refuge and have taken the Bodhisattva vow.  I have trouble with the Sangha.  It's my problem.  I hope to grow into more participation.  When I was first a Buddhist at the same center I was very involved with many of the people.  I have grown old and the Sangha has grown young.  Our interests have diverged, but the Lama wants me to participate at least peripherally.  I say I will get involved and then I do nothing.  I hope to go to the center tomorrow.  I have one friend who is a member of a different center and we talk together pretty often.  My friend is my escape clause.  He's my Sangha.  This is bs, but it beats changing.

No one is good enough for me.  I can find fault with anyone - teacher, student, monk or layman.  That's one of my failings and I am working on it.  I am a Buddhist because I need so badly to do better, to control my mind.  The Bodhisattva vows to lead all sentient beings to Buddhahood.  That doesn't leave time for social action.  It's wholesale action, and social activism is retail action.  That doen't mean don't do social action.  But wholesale action comes first.

I realize this seems pretty self-involved.  The fact is that I cannot do everything.  I have activist friends and I would not trade my way of life for theirs.  I have chosen a way of life and that lays me open to all kinds of criticism.  But the develpment I have experienced over the years makes me not interested in the criticism of other people.  I have to get through my life.  I'm pretty happy.

I hope this is helpful.

jb

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#3 2007-07-06 02:36:29

Tairaku 太楽
Administrator/Performer
From: Tasmania
Registered: 2005-10-07
Posts: 3222
Website

Re: Buddhist Community?

Probably a lot of what you are talking about reflects that Buddhism is not very deeply rooted in America yet. Non Asians have only been practicing it here for about 50 years. By definition it's a religion of converts and converts, sorry to say, are not everyday people. For one thing they frequently have the fervor of the converted. If you go to one of the Thai or Laotian temples you will find more of what you would consider community based Buddhism, but it's not the Western Buddhist community. I have also found the Western based Buddhist system to be exclusive. For example I did concerts at or for various Buddhist organizations in Milwaukee and some of the people boycotted each others concerts. That was not really what I had in mind when I offered to do them.


'Progress means simplifying, not complicating' : Bruno Munari

http://www.myspace.com/tairakubrianritchie

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#4 2007-07-06 03:16:10

amokrun
Member
From: Finland
Registered: 2006-08-08
Posts: 413

Re: Buddhist Community?

Seth wrote:

However- it seems that in the United States there really is no Buddhist community to be a part of.  I have gone to a many Buddhist events, and meditations centers, and it seems the only community to be found is focused on a group of people sitting in a room together in total silence and then going home.  And perhaps there is some lecture by some monk or advanced meditator.  But the lecturing is always about how to make ourselves feel better  by controlling our desires.  Which is fine, but it seems Buddhism, at least here, is all about people focusing on themselves and that there is very little about the community - about connecting with others, and about being connected to the world in a constructive way.

One of the reasons Buddhism and Zen especially got me interested is because the approach is very different from many other religions - that is, if you wish to call it a religion. Rather than pushing people to fix things the focus is on fixing yourself first. Right now all sorts of drugs and other things which are supposed to help you feel better are more common than ever. People do anything to get rid of the symptoms but little to actually fix these issues. Yet, these same people who can't live with themselves are trying to affect the lives of others. That seems very contradictory to me.

Seth wrote:

And this leaves me thinking that there really is no reason to be part of a Buddhist community.  I can just as easily sit in silence and observe my breath here in the comfort of my home as in a fancy retreat center in Upstate New York of California.  In fact, I probably will be less distracted in my living room than elsewhere where I won't be confronted with strange people and strange food.

At the place where I go to occasionally they even said that sitting at your house is perfectly fine. Some people feel that they need to go somewhere special to stop thinking about the mundane issues. Others just reserve a small corner from their house for this purpose. If your house is quiet enough so that you don't get distracted all the time, I say go for it.

In some cases the Zen center may be able to provide certain other things for you which you can't do on your own. The koan practice is one example of such thing. It involves at least semi-frequent conversations with your teacher. Even if you do the common breathing exercises you could still benefit from talking to your teacher occasionally and telling how you are progressing. Even though the experience is certainly rather personal, someone who has gone through it can still offer some suggestions on how you could do even better.

Seth wrote:

And I am sorry to say that I do not see the Buddhist commuity in the United States filling this role.  It does not seem supportive of people's need for community, for providing a narrative for people's life cycle (Is there even such a thing as a Buddhist marriage ceremony?)

don't know how this works in the US. Here in Finland we have a fairly small group of Zen Buddhist people who mostly do exactly the things you mentioned - sitting and occasional lecture. Recently they talked about starting to run weddings and funerals and they have been running certain other functions like that for a while.

Anyhow, working on yourself is the focus of the practice. I assume that is why most people do the exercises. Although some people want to be a part of a large community, others do not necessarily care for such things.

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#5 2007-07-06 07:40:38

Harazda
Member
Registered: 2007-06-07
Posts: 126

Re: Buddhist Community?

Seth, your post is extremely meaningful to me; I could say so much about this that it will be hard to keep this brief, though I am committed to do so.  The quick answer is that the sickness of American society is the foundation of much of Buddhism's social expression here.  I suppose it varies a little from sangha to sangha; my primary experience has been around Woodstock and Karma Triyana Dharmachakra as it was from the mid 80's on.  Therefore, my take will include references to Tibetan practice and structure.

Firstly, I think that the Tibetans' early take on our society was to trust almost no one.  The white structure that surrounds them even today basically follows this credo:  everyone is crazy until proven otherwise. 

Secondly, all the whites are quite disempowered, with the exception that they are very empowered to give money to whatever projectcs are going on, including the support of the lamas, including health care.  In some ways, this merely mirrors time-honored traditions of support to monastics.  What gets stuck in my craw at this point is the fact that Vajrayana practices were originally the domain of non-monastics ONLY.  The monastics took everything over at some point historically, and now they own everything.

Now, I am what's known as a Genyenpa.  This means that I am an ordained lay practitioner.  This is a serious level of activity; some great Genyen practitioners were Tilopa, Naropa, Marpa, and Milarepa... these were the founders of our lineage... but today, being a Genyenpa means virtually nothing to anyone within the lineage structure as it exists in the West.  In Asia, there are huge lay organizations with considerable political clout.  We saw some of this clout enacted during the big mess created by Shamar Rinpoche over the identity of the 17th Karmapa.  It's a disgusting story of unnecessary schism, which appears to be rooted in delusion.

Many people at KTD were so unhappy with the lack of support of the individual that they just got up and left.  But what I noticed during my years there was that the people with the ability to look beyond their own personal myths and perceptions and DO DHARMA PRACTICE were the ones who survived and grew.

To cut to the chase:  if people aren't practicing Dharma with everything they've got, there's going to be trouble.  This level of commitment takes the spotlight off of ourselves and pushes the whole ship forward.  For all the faults of the Tibetans and whoever else, the good news is that the first thing the Lamas always talk about is Bodhicitta: engendering an altruistic attitude.  This is THE CORE of the whole trip.  If this foundation is enacted and embodied, then the Dharma does not and will not fall into the error of Nihilism.

American society is fractured by sickness of mind for which the Dharma is the medicine.  That is the underlying truth.  This is the time for Dharma practice to be attended to with the utmost verve, regardless of how we've been orphaned by prevailing external circumstances. 

Perhaps in a way like that of Milarepa, our concern should be about future lives.

Now, with all these Tibetan-isms aside, for Zen people (with whom I also belong) this means to do strong Zazen.  For us shakuhachi and hochiku players, this means to do a style of shugyo that transcends the player and reaches to the root of phenomenal appearance... that permeates arising phenomena.  In my view, the subjective reality of the stateless state, the essencesless essence, means that the player is blending with all manifest appearance through the element of space... pure and simple. 

This practice is the ultimate activism.

Last edited by Harazda (2007-07-06 17:32:19)

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#6 2007-07-11 00:36:55

Seth
Member
From: Scarsdale, NY
Registered: 2005-10-24
Posts: 270

Re: Buddhist Community?

Thanks to all of you for writing such thoughtfull responses.

I appreciate your observations that what I am describing is a result of the Buddhist community being so young in the United States - but that also Buddhism does focus on activism within ourselves as the primary form of activism.  No doubt there is tremendous wisdom in this approach.

I spent a decade living in Israel and working as a peace activist organzing community work projects to bring Jews and Arabs together in various activities.  Overall it was a pretty fruitless effort - but I did learn after many years that at the heart of the conflict was just a bunch of people who had allowed delusional tribal identities to become more important than even their own personal well being.   This may seem like an obvious thing from afar - but when you are in the middle of it it is very tempting to take the labels of Jew and Arab quite seriously.  The reason I bring this example up is that many people are tempted to try to resolve this confilct via traditional activism, whereas perhaps the most effective activism would be one on a personal level that would free people from their excessive tribalism and delusions of uniqueness and otherness. 

But in the States, the problem seems to be the opposite extreme.  Here people are so detached from community that they seek solace in materialism and hedonism.  And I suspect that the fashionable nature of Buddhist practice may be feeding into this 'sickness' and even making it worse at times.  For example:  About a year ago I suscribed to a Buddhist magazine and then I started to get these awesome 50 page catalogs from 'monastaries' advertising  all of their 'buddhist supplies' and 'meditation equipment' for sale.  My head just reels from the irony!

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#7 2007-07-11 06:39:08

nyokai
shihan
From: Portland, ME
Registered: 2005-10-09
Posts: 613
Website

Re: Buddhist Community?

Seth wrote:

I started to get these awesome 50 page catalogs from 'monastaries' advertising  all of their 'buddhist supplies' and 'meditation equipment' for sale.

US culture is all about lifestyle. Buddhism is not very important here, but the Buddhist lifestyle is one among several "alternative" ones to choose from. It's hard to find a glossy magazine supposedly dedicated to some particular area of interest that's not at  core a fashion magazine.

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#8 2007-07-11 07:18:33

Harazda
Member
Registered: 2007-06-07
Posts: 126

Re: Buddhist Community?

What's great though, nyokai, is when you really get down to it and separate "the men from the boys," as they say.  There are some hardcore Buddhist people on this planet, and you get an idea of their strength in times of retreat and self-denial... and in times of silence.  Then it becomes clear that we have a choice to go beyond the plastic appearances, and even the fear of being seen as pursuing something goofy and plastic, and really charging forward in the practice in order to be part of the great effort to save beings from the sufferings they have made for themselves.  I think the most meaningful battleline in this regard is to observe our own suffering - our own delusions and styles of self-deception - and go forward with confidence that the whole thing can be unravelled.  Part of the unravelling is the unravelling of that which is plastic and phoney.

In time, a separate community appears... one that is true and real, with the ancient objective of universal salvation.  Wimps and "target market" lifestylers need not apply.

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#9 2007-07-11 08:11:22

Tairaku 太楽
Administrator/Performer
From: Tasmania
Registered: 2005-10-07
Posts: 3222
Website

Re: Buddhist Community?

nyokai wrote:

Seth wrote:

I started to get these awesome 50 page catalogs from 'monastaries' advertising  all of their 'buddhist supplies' and 'meditation equipment' for sale.

US culture is all about lifestyle. Buddhism is not very important here, but the Buddhist lifestyle is one among several "alternative" ones to choose from. It's hard to find a glossy magazine supposedly dedicated to some particular area of interest that's not at  core a fashion magazine.

They're not only fashion magazines but also repositories for advertising. That's how they survive. Since it's difficult to advertise such things as "right livelihood", "nirvana" etc. they advertise meditation cushions, Tibetan bells, statues and so on. People in the West think they can buy enlightenment. That happens around here when people think if they buy a certain flute suddenly they'll play a lot better. Usually that also takes some study and practice.


'Progress means simplifying, not complicating' : Bruno Munari

http://www.myspace.com/tairakubrianritchie

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