Why so few Western Buddhists?

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism
Saengnapha
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Re: Why so few Western Buddhists?

Post by Saengnapha » Wed Jan 10, 2018 10:33 am

binocular wrote:
Tue Jan 09, 2018 2:42 pm
Saengnapha wrote:
Tue Jan 09, 2018 2:25 pm
What's the difference what they think? They are not interested in Buddhism is my point. It's only the circumstance for them, not their way of living.
I'm saying there's a difference between attempting to practice Buddhism in an environment where Buddhism is at least nominally present; as opposed to attempting to practice Buddhism in an environment where Buddhism is alien to it, or where other people are even hostile to it.


Or do you think that living somehwere where most other people are, say, Christians, is in roundabout the same as living in a traditionally Buddhist Asian country where most people are only superficially interested in Buddhism?
Here in Bangkok, no one ever asks me if I'm a Buddhist or what I practice. I cannot remember a single instance. My own practice is private. Who would know what I believe just by looking at me? I don't wear an orange robe. I don't go to a Wat, either. If I lived in Berlin, it would be the same practice for me even if there were no Wats or orange robes walking the streets.

However, living my daily life here in BKK, is very different than living my life in Berlin, N.Y., or even India, for that matter. SE Asia has its own flavor and feeling. That is one of the reasons I like living here. It's very conducive to my current circumstances on a day to day level.

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Subharo
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Re: Why so few Western Buddhists?

Post by Subharo » Wed Jan 10, 2018 10:44 am

binocular wrote:
Wed Jan 10, 2018 10:27 am
I find it most interesting that you as a monk say such things.
Monks are humans too.
binocular wrote:
Wed Jan 10, 2018 10:27 am
It's another set of generalizations, though.
Guilty as charged. They are indeed generalizations.
binocular wrote:
Wed Jan 10, 2018 10:27 am
I find your list downright comical.
It was comical to write. I guess I wrote it as a form of catharsis. At least I avoided direct confrontation, which is slightly praiseworthy in Buddhism.
binocular wrote:
Wed Jan 10, 2018 10:27 am
I think many Buddhist monks, esp. Western ones, would be offended by your suggestions.
Some people are virtually impossible to not offend. What does that say about them?
Subharo Bhikkhu
"There is but one taste on this path, the taste of freedom" -The Buddha :buddha1:

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No_Mind
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Re: Why so few Western Buddhists?

Post by No_Mind » Wed Jan 10, 2018 11:22 am

Subharo wrote:
Wed Jan 10, 2018 9:19 am
That was totally fascinating, No_Mind. Thanks.

In the same spirit, I'd like to take another crack at answering the question "Why are there so few Western Buddhists?"

After 11 years now in the monastic world full-time (9 years now as fully-ordained Bhikkhu), here's a short guide for Easterners or Westerners who find themselves trying to teach Westerners the subject of Buddhism (and perhaps this will help there to be many more Westerner Buddhists in the future):
....
Bhante, I did not mean that irreligious Westerners accept Buddhism as an organised religion but as a way of life. I believe much of the angst in West in recent decades is due to lack of faith in any body of beliefs .. it may be capitalism or nazism or scientology as long as one has faith in a set of beliefs it provides a home for the mind .. faith in something anchors us.

Buddhism due to its lack of God(s) seems a natural set of beliefs for West to turn to .. at least more than the 0.3% it stands at .. even if 10% of the irreligious became Buddhists that would be 5% of the population in most countries .. I wrote the post because I found surprising that 1 in 10 of the irreligious have not yet discovered Buddhism in spite of the massive presence Buddhism has on YouTube and social media space.

:namaste:

No_Mind
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binocular
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Re: Why so few Western Buddhists?

Post by binocular » Wed Jan 10, 2018 11:26 am

Saengnapha wrote:
Wed Jan 10, 2018 10:33 am
Here in Bangkok, no one ever asks me if I'm a Buddhist or what I practice. I cannot remember a single instance. My own practice is private. Who would know what I believe just by looking at me? I don't wear an orange robe. I don't go to a Wat, either. If I lived in Berlin, it would be the same practice for me even if there were no Wats or orange robes walking the streets.
But you probably don't drink alcohol, don't smoke, don't mindlessly swat mosquitoes, have a limited range of emotional expressions (little or no anger, just the four brahamaviharas), don't swear, don't gossip, and more. Other people probably notice those things, and there may be social situations where they ask you about them. For example, where I live, it is outrageous not to drink alcohol, and people expect, sometimes even demand an explanation, or else, questions follow -- "Are you pregnant? ... Are you a recovered alcoholic? ... Was someone in your family alcoholic? ... Do you take some heavy medications? ..." It's really tedious. And it limits my social interactions with others. I imagine the same wouldn't happen if I lived in a traditionally Buddhist country.
However, living my daily life here in BKK, is very different than living my life in Berlin, N.Y., or even India, for that matter. SE Asia has its own flavor and feeling. That is one of the reasons I like living here. It's very conducive to my current circumstances on a day to day level.
Yes ... it does make a difference where one lives.

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binocular
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Re: Why so few Western Buddhists?

Post by binocular » Wed Jan 10, 2018 11:55 am

No_Mind wrote:
Wed Jan 10, 2018 11:22 am
I wrote the post because I found surprising that 1 in 10 of the irreligious have not yet discovered Buddhism in spite of the massive presence Buddhism has on YouTube and social media space.
I'm sure many have discovered Buddhism; but far fewer seem to stick around. My father, for example, used to be interested in Zen, but gave up. He says that Buddhism is too idealistic and impractical.

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binocular
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Re: Why so few Western Buddhists?

Post by binocular » Wed Jan 10, 2018 12:25 pm

Subharo wrote:
Wed Jan 10, 2018 10:44 am
Monks are humans too.
I laughed when I read that!
Some people are virtually impossible to not offend. What does that say about them?
That they have good self-esteem, I suppose. I'm virtually impossible to offend, so I don't what that is like to be someone who readily takes offence.

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Subharo
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Re: Why so few Western Buddhists?

Post by Subharo » Wed Jan 10, 2018 12:55 pm

Some people are virtually impossible to not offend. What does that say about them?

That they have good self-esteem, I suppose.
Well I, for one, am making a personal effort to not get all snooty and up myself, or I would regard that as a spiritual fault on my part, not a spiritual virtue. No doubt I have other personality flaws, but let at least snootiness not be one of them.
binocular wrote:
Wed Jan 10, 2018 12:25 pm
I'm virtually impossible to offend, so I don't what that is like to be someone who readily takes offence.
Thanks for saying that.
Subharo Bhikkhu
"There is but one taste on this path, the taste of freedom" -The Buddha :buddha1:

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Subharo
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Re: Why so few Western Buddhists?

Post by Subharo » Wed Jan 10, 2018 1:02 pm

No_Mind wrote:
Wed Jan 10, 2018 11:22 am
.. even if 10% of the irreligious became Buddhists that would be 5% of the population in most countries .. I wrote the post because I found surprising that 1 in 10 of the irreligious have not yet discovered Buddhism in spite of the massive presence Buddhism has on YouTube and social media space.
I too would love it if the percentage rose to 5%. Any serious Buddhist in Canada or the USA probably has the option of moving out to the West Coast, where Buddhism will be much easier to find (and will feel more like 5 or more %). But the East Coast? It seems to be a particularily stubborn place, IMHO. There can be quite a lot of liberality (meaning "Buddhist-friendly") in the larger cities in the middle of said countries. Again, these are admittedly more generalizations.
Subharo Bhikkhu
"There is but one taste on this path, the taste of freedom" -The Buddha :buddha1:

Caodemarte
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Re: Why so few Western Buddhists?

Post by Caodemarte » Wed Jan 10, 2018 1:15 pm

Subharo wrote:
Wed Jan 10, 2018 1:02 pm
No_Mind wrote:
Wed Jan 10, 2018 11:22 am
.. even if 10% of the irreligious became Buddhists that would be 5% of the population in most countries .. I wrote the post because I found surprising that 1 in 10 of the irreligious have not yet discovered Buddhism in spite of the massive presence Buddhism has on YouTube and social media space.
I too would love it if the percentage rose to 5%. Any serious Buddhist in Canada or the USA probably has the option of moving out to the West Coast, where Buddhism will be much easier to find (and will feel more like 5 or more %). But the East Coast? It seems to be a particularily stubborn place, IMHO. There can be quite a lot of liberality (meaning "Buddhist-friendly") in the larger cities in the middle of said countries. Again, these are admittedly more generalizations.
Buddhists are scarcer on the ground in the South East than the North East in the USA. Living in the south I look at the north as comparatively full of Buddhists.

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Subharo
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Re: Why so few Western Buddhists?

Post by Subharo » Wed Jan 10, 2018 1:53 pm

No_Mind wrote:
Wed Jan 10, 2018 11:22 am
Bhante, I did not mean that irreligious Westerners accept Buddhism as an organised religion but as a way of life.
For Westerners to slow way, way down and find time to meditate regularily, etc., en masse, is like asking a pack of monkeys not to climb trees any longer. A subtle lifestyle concept like "ending bhava", (or as the Taoists would say, "Wu Wei") is not something Westerners will appreciate any time soon.

Perhaps this sort of thing (slowing down one's pace of life) is easier to appreciate for Indians. I heard one highly entertaining story from my Indian monk friend, who attended Kumbh Mela before ordaining. He said there was one naked Sadhu there whose only possession was a pillowcase stuffed right full of Marijuana. And he slept with the pillowcase clutched shut, and that was his pillow under his head. I repeat, that pillowcase of weed was his one and only one possession. :rofl:

Not even one pair of gotch.

So this gives me confidence that India knows how to slow their lives down, as examples are seen of this in the Sadhu culture.
No_Mind wrote:
Wed Jan 10, 2018 11:22 am
I believe much of the angst in West in recent decades is due to lack of faith in any body of beliefs .. it may be capitalism or nazism or scientology as long as one has faith in a set of beliefs it provides a home for the mind .. faith in something anchors us.
Well, I've managed to develop faith in my Kammatana, and man has that ever made a difference. It was extremely hard to do. Again, not something that easy for Westerners to appreciate, generally speaking, as there are typically many, many other forms of instant gratification available to them.
Subharo Bhikkhu
"There is but one taste on this path, the taste of freedom" -The Buddha :buddha1:

chownah
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Re: Why so few Western Buddhists?

Post by chownah » Wed Jan 10, 2018 2:50 pm

Subharo wrote:
Wed Jan 10, 2018 1:53 pm
For Westerners to slow way, way down and find time to meditate regularily, etc., en masse, is like asking a pack of monkeys not to climb trees any longer. A subtle lifestyle concept like "ending bhava", (or as the Taoists would say, "Wu Wei") is not something Westerners will appreciate any time soon.
I think the same thing is true of thai people......and they are buddhist.
chownah

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No_Mind
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Re: Why so few Western Buddhists?

Post by No_Mind » Wed Jan 10, 2018 2:55 pm

Subharo wrote:
Wed Jan 10, 2018 1:53 pm
So this gives me confidence that India knows how to slow their lives down, as examples are seen of this in the Sadhu culture.
I would not go as far as to say that Indians know how to slow down their life .. but .. we are taught from childhood (or children were taught when I was a kid) to let 'it' go .. that nothing except good character and health is worth clinging to .. that at end of the day this is where we are headed .. into flames

warning .. do not watch if you are sensitive



Note the lack of dignity with which the corpse is handled in its final few minutes before it heads into the incinerator. It has no value, so no dignity is needed to be shown in its final moments. The body is burned as soon as humanly possible .. usually within 6-9 hours. In case offspring lives abroad .. that is delayed to 2-3 days. On the other hand the homage to the departed soul called Sraddha is very dignified and respectful.

And we are taught to internalize this image by age of ten (or we were taught to internalize it by age of ten .. cannot speak for today's snowflakes).

This body .. the one being burnt was once a zygote which became a foetus which became an infant who grew up to be an adult .. ate food, passed excreta, felt lust, enjoyed sex, loved parents, siblings, friends, kissed his lover .. loved to watch Sachin Tendulkar bat, eat meat curry, cried when he was hurt, laughed when he got his first job.

and it is dead .. taking all of its desires and mental proliferations with it .. nothing survives except Pancha Bhuta - Kshiti (Earth as ashes), Ap (Water as vapour), Tej (Energy as flames), Marut (Gas), Byom (Space)

All its needs, desires has ended .. and no matter if I am (or if we are) a vagabond without a penny or the wealthiest billionaire in Mumbai we are within next few decades headed towards the same fate, the same gate of flames will greet us at end.

:namaste:

No_Mind
Last edited by No_Mind on Thu Jan 11, 2018 1:06 am, edited 1 time in total.
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cappuccino
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Re: Why so few Western Buddhists?

Post by cappuccino » Wed Jan 10, 2018 3:22 pm

No_Mind wrote:
Wed Jan 10, 2018 2:55 pm
and it is dead .. taking all of its desires with it .. nothing survives
Annihilation?

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No_Mind
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Re: Why so few Western Buddhists?

Post by No_Mind » Wed Jan 10, 2018 3:30 pm

cappuccino wrote:
Wed Jan 10, 2018 3:22 pm
No_Mind wrote:
Wed Jan 10, 2018 2:55 pm
and it is dead .. taking all of its desires with it .. nothing survives
Annihilation?
The body .. yes. Any doubts? Do you have pet zombies on a leash like Michonne :?



:namaste:

No_Mind
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Saengnapha
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Re: Why so few Western Buddhists?

Post by Saengnapha » Wed Jan 10, 2018 4:24 pm

binocular wrote:
Wed Jan 10, 2018 11:26 am
Saengnapha wrote:
Wed Jan 10, 2018 10:33 am
Here in Bangkok, no one ever asks me if I'm a Buddhist or what I practice. I cannot remember a single instance. My own practice is private. Who would know what I believe just by looking at me? I don't wear an orange robe. I don't go to a Wat, either. If I lived in Berlin, it would be the same practice for me even if there were no Wats or orange robes walking the streets.
But you probably don't drink alcohol, don't smoke, don't mindlessly swat mosquitoes, have a limited range of emotional expressions (little or no anger, just the four brahamaviharas), don't swear, don't gossip, and more. Other people probably notice those things, and there may be social situations where they ask you about them. For example, where I live, it is outrageous not to drink alcohol, and people expect, sometimes even demand an explanation, or else, questions follow -- "Are you pregnant? ... Are you a recovered alcoholic? ... Was someone in your family alcoholic? ... Do you take some heavy medications? ..." It's really tedious. And it limits my social interactions with others. I imagine the same wouldn't happen if I lived in a traditionally Buddhist country.
However, living my daily life here in BKK, is very different than living my life in Berlin, N.Y., or even India, for that matter. SE Asia has its own flavor and feeling. That is one of the reasons I like living here. It's very conducive to my current circumstances on a day to day level.
Yes ... it does make a difference where one lives.
You make some interesting observations. Perhaps if I were younger and a more social person, I would come into contact with more of the types of people you are talking about. But, otoh, this is why I am not as socially minded as I once was. Westerners, especially Europeans, tend to drink quite a bit. Somehow drinking is tied into their fabric of life. SE Asia and India are not like that outside of the expat groups. But, drinking is prevalent in Japanese and Korean cultures as well as Tibetan.

Meezer77
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Re: Why so few Western Buddhists?

Post by Meezer77 » Wed Jan 10, 2018 6:50 pm

Subharo wrote:
Mon Jan 08, 2018 8:35 pm
SarathW wrote:
Wed Jan 03, 2018 9:14 pm
Bundokji wrote:
Wed Jan 03, 2018 2:08 pm
I think it has to do with the western understanding of freedom which radically differs from the freedom gained by practicing Buddhism.
I have seen this is a big problem even for the Western Buddhist converts.
They interpret Buddhism in light of their old belief system.
SarathW, if by saying "old belief system", you mean "the freedom to use critical thinking whatsoever at any time", then I agree with you: Westerners indeed have a hard time letting go of their "old belief system." And that freedom was very hard won. It's a freedom Westerners are not eager to lose.

No Mind, here is a counter-question for you to ponder (which perhaps will give you a Satori into an answer to your OP):
In Eastern culture, why is critical thinking, and frank debate in a gentlemanly tone of voice, so taboo, especially when people (who are elders) are clearly talking crap (and take great liberty doing so, knowing very well they can get away with it all they want, pretty much)?
Interested in what you mean by "critical thinking ". Doesn't everyone regardless of where they're from need this to survive? I'd feel very vulnerable if I had to give this up. Perhaps I'm being too literal, could you please explain or give examples

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Subharo
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Re: Why so few Western Buddhists?

Post by Subharo » Thu Jan 11, 2018 12:12 am

Meezer77 wrote:
Wed Jan 10, 2018 6:50 pm
Interested in what you mean by "critical thinking ". ... I'd feel very vulnerable if I had to give this up. Perhaps I'm being too literal, could you please explain or give examples
Here's a prime example.
Meezer77 wrote:
Wed Jan 10, 2018 6:50 pm
Doesn't everyone regardless of where they're from need this to survive?
Ironically, sometimes you need to withhold the use of critical thinking in order to survive (as in situations where you cannot get away with using it, without the consequence of indirect-yet-virtually-certain punishment).
Subharo Bhikkhu
"There is but one taste on this path, the taste of freedom" -The Buddha :buddha1:

Meezer77
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Re: Why so few Western Buddhists?

Post by Meezer77 » Thu Jan 11, 2018 12:29 am

Subharo wrote:
Thu Jan 11, 2018 12:12 am
Meezer77 wrote:
Wed Jan 10, 2018 6:50 pm
Interested in what you mean by "critical thinking ". ... I'd feel very vulnerable if I had to give this up. Perhaps I'm being too literal, could you please explain or give examples
Here's a prime example.
Meezer77 wrote:
Wed Jan 10, 2018 6:50 pm
Doesn't everyone regardless of where they're from need this to survive?
Ironically, sometimes you need to withhold the use of critical thinking in order to survive (as in situations where you cannot get away with using it, without the consequence of indirect-yet-virtually-certain punishment).
Oh I get that at work all the time. Having to bite my tongue and what not. I can still "think" critically though. Bhante, seems like you're feeling really oppressed. What do you reckon are the redeeming things that keep you in robes?

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Subharo
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Re: Why so few Western Buddhists?

Post by Subharo » Thu Jan 11, 2018 12:56 am

Meezer77 wrote:
Thu Jan 11, 2018 12:29 am
Bhante, seems like you're feeling really oppressed. What do you reckon are the redeeming things that keep you in robes?
It's getting less and less oppressive all the time. Actually, I've never been happier. These posts are more like a public service announcement, so that others can watch out for the tricks before they get played. With any luck, these tricks will get used less and less, **which I feel is an essential ingredient to Buddhism actually spreading more in the west**. So this grumbling does have have a higher purpose, which is a more transparent Buddhism in the future (and I feel Westerners crucially need transparency in order to trust Buddhism).

My meditation is going quite well these days (but please don't ask me to attest to any sort of attainments). These days, it's easily reward enough just to meditate, or even to simply be mindful of my current object of meditation for all of about 5 seconds. That's what's keeping me in the robes. Also, please don't ask me what my object of meditation is. The particulars of my practice is something I try to keep private.

On the subject of transparency, take a look at how "transparent" Westerner countries tend to be, as compared to how "transparent" traditional Buddhist countries tend to be. Now perhaps you can see what I'm getting at?

@No_Mind, can you see how I'm attempting to answer your question in a constructive, yet deeply-uncomfortable-to-some way?
Subharo Bhikkhu
"There is but one taste on this path, the taste of freedom" -The Buddha :buddha1:

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No_Mind
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Re: Why so few Western Buddhists?

Post by No_Mind » Thu Jan 11, 2018 12:56 am

Meezer77 wrote:
Wed Jan 10, 2018 6:50 pm
Doesn't everyone regardless of where they're from need this to survive?
Clearly these people don't. They have given up critical thinking entirely.

The Flat Earth International Conference in Raleigh, North Carolina, attracted hundreds of attendees who believe the shape of the Earth is a disc instead of a sphere.



And neither do people who believe in caste based discrimination as some do in India and also (surprise, surprise) in Japan.

Do you know in Japan a grown man wanting to have sex with a young girl (about ten year old) is considered a normal urge? Until 2014 child pornography was legal to own in Japan. Is that critical thinking?

There are examples from every place on earth .. when people suspended critical thinking .. Brexit for example.

:namaste:

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