Home » Blog Standard

American Buddhism?

Dudjom Lingpa

Before now I have said that there is no such thing as American Buddhism. It has in part been fun to annoy people who think that there is. Arguing the point is – obviously, I think – foolish.

One the one hand it is clear that there is lots of Buddhism in America, and has been for many decades – since about the time of the goldrush, it would seem. And the variety is huge.

On the other hand, it is equally clear that there is no one school or organisation that could claim to speak for even a high proportion of American Buddhists, let alone all of them.

I have never been to America, so I cannot speak from first hand experience, but for reasons that don’t concern this post I did sign up to watch some of the “Tricycle / BuddhaFest Online International Buddhist Film Festival”. It had a quite unique flavour, reflecting as it does the trend that has sometimes been given, or even claimed, the title “American Buddhism”. For detail, of course, you can look at Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhism_in_the_United_States.

First, I want to acknowledge the positive: some of the films contained beautiful images, and some were both interesting and informative. Most, however, were films for their respective enthusiasts: “Zen and the West”, “Bon and the West”, “Precious Guru” for the Nyingma-leaning Tibetophiles (like me), “Music Monks” depicting the struggle to reconstitute and re-establish musical tradition in a Chinese Monastery, “The Geshema is Born” telling of the struggle to get a proper, high-level Buddhist intellectual training for nuns. And more.

But – and here anyone is welcome to argue that this is just a sign of what a negative person I am – I felt that I was essentially eating white bread, with little smears of margarine or jam. I offer you, without any criticism of the content at all, the titles of some of what are advertised as “wisdom talks”: “Mindfulness to Heal Ourselves and the World”, “Evolving Compassion in Times of Crisis”, “The Art of Solitude”, “Finding Calm and Contentment in Turbulent Times”. All very nice, all very worthy, generally given by people who have been “on the scene” for many years and who may very well be much more informed than I am.

I am not, I hope it is clear, for a moment suggesting that it would not be a good idea to be more mindful, more compassionate, more able to accept ourselves and find contentment. The world would probably be much better if those attitudes were more highly valued and more widely cultivated.

So what is my problem? It’s probably better expressed by the spoof-spiritual videos of people like JP Sears than by words of mine. https://youtu.be/9FEOFB3m2m8

Come back, Dudjom Lingpa, all is forgiven!

 

Non-gradual

Not only within the Buddhist context (but certainly in that context) there is a tension – sometimes a conflict – between what are called “gradualist” approaches and “subitist” (sudden) approaches.

But the opposite of “gradual” is not “sudden”, at least not in this context. It is, rather obviously, “non-gradual”.

Those who practice Mahamudra or Dzogchen don’t get sudden enlightenment with no work, no preparation, no effort, no good fortune. Generally they do similar foundation practices, purification practices, practices to increase merit at those who see themselves on a gradual path. But these things are done in a different light, as expressions of the underlying, inalienable presence of the enlightened mind, not as the pedestrian performance of a strict, sequential recipe.

The difference is quite subtle, and it’s easy to mistake the one for the other.

Large statue

GR shoe

Early last century my grandfather was something of a whizz in brass, and contributed help develop extrusion processes for that metal. Being lucky enough myself to hail from Birmingham, I have enormous respect for people who can do things with metal. So I was very impressed by the sheer engineering involved in making this huge statue of Guru Rinpoche in Bhutan. I’d seen a few pictures before, and this video is a few years old, but I only stumbled across it the other day.

You can watch the video at Youtube – it’s not quite 12 minutes long, or read a little bit more at Bhutan Travel and elsewhere.

Dalai Lama calls for a system change

This is not the first time HHDL has spoken about this, but it has received a fair bit of media attention following on from a talk he gave recently to university students in India, so perhaps a “shout-out” is appropriate here.

From his own site:

“In seeking to balance preserving tradition and modern development, His Holiness suggested that the custom of recognising reincarnate lamas may have had its day. He remarked that no such custom existed in India. There is no reincarnation of the Buddha or Nagarjuna. He wondered what place this institution has in a democratic society.”

JUST IN CASE any readers are confused Read more

Wolves’ playground?

In theory I should have more important, “spiritual” things I should have been thinking about, but that’s not what got me excited enough to write this post.

The weather being good, and as I had some spare time, I walked up to a somewhat forsaken spot under a bridge this afternoon to practice Thröma’s Laughter and the Concise Feast. Cool, eh?

As I settled down I noticed that in the rough and sometimes silty sand around me, there were dozens and dozens of canine pawprints. Ordinarily, I would have been a bit surprised, seeing as how this spot really is out of the way. The occasional holidaymaking dog-walker might just get here in the summer, but otherwise I would guess it does not see a human visitation from one end of the month to the other. I could not see any human footprints. Hunting dogs are another possibility, but they don’t just wander generally around the countryside, and if they were here at all they would be more likely to pass through than leave a huge number of prints in a small space. Bearing in mind the size, the location and, above all, the fact that a wolf was photographed only a couple of hundred yards from here a week or two ago, there is every chance that I was practising in the middle of some kind of wolves’ playground!

Not being a skilled wildlife photographer, my attempts to snap these prints with the mobile were not very successful, but here is the best: