What are the hurdles hindering Dhamma propagation in the US?

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Dhammanando
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Re: What are the hurdles hindering Dhamma propagation in the US?

Post by Dhammanando » Fri May 01, 2015 11:34 am

Ben wrote:It looks like we have Utah surrounded.
Whaddya say we invade and give those Mormons a bit of a fright with some satipatthana practice?
Your fellow Aussie, John Safran, once paid a visit to Utah, where he engaged in Mormon-style door-knocking, preaching Darwinism and atheism to the residents of Salt Lake City. It wasn't much appreciated. :)



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Re: What are the hurdles hindering Dhamma propagation in the US?

Post by Ben » Fri May 01, 2015 11:46 am

Dhammanando wrote:
Ben wrote:It looks like we have Utah surrounded.
Whaddya say we invade and give those Mormons a bit of a fright with some satipatthana practice?
Your fellow Aussie, John Safran, once paid a visit to Utah, where he engaged in Mormon-style door-knocking, preaching Darwinism and atheism to the residents of Salt Lake City. It wasn't much appreciated. :)


Yes, I remember that episode well when it was first screened.
I laughed like a hyena then quickly got back to my cantankerous ways.
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Re: What are the hurdles hindering Dhamma propagation in the US?

Post by Anagarika » Fri May 01, 2015 12:21 pm

I'd propose the argument that what has limited the propagation of the Dhamma in the US is the way that "Buddhism' arrived in the US, through the Japanese Zen tradition (ie Suzuki) and Vajrayana (Trungpa). Neither of these platforms I would consider dependable vessels for the Early Buddhist Texts, and combined with the hippie movement that embraced Zen and Trungpa, Buddhism in the west when it arrived was a lot of "ism" and not much Buddha.

In addition, I can't really identify a Theravada Bhikkhu or Bhikkhuni that someone on the street could name as being a representative of the Dhamma. Thanissaro Bhikkhu, for example, has broadcast the Dhamma well and freely, but the scope of the transmission is limited to a very small number of people. The same with Bhikkhu Bodhi, whose BGR NGO has notoriety among many Buddhists and non-Buddhists, but still a relatively small number of people in the US.

I suppose I'd argue that if someone like an American version of Ajahn Chah, or an Ajahn Brahm, had come to the US in the 1960's with a Dhammic message of freedom from suffering, kamma, and Brahmaviharas, a lot of people would have embraced it during the turbulent times of the late 60's and 70's in the US. The teachings of the Buddha from the Canon would be more familiar, and like with any great message, would have taken root and grown.

Instead we got Trungpa, "crazy wisdom," Vajra Regents with HIV, and Japanese Zen that brought many positives, but also introduced Roshis for whom the observance of 5 precepts was anathema. I don't mean to take shots at these traditions ( I am focusing on the negatives in the US, and not the many positives of these traditions worldwide), but had there been a dynamic, Dhamma learned Theravada monk or nun in these early days, I feel the Dhamma would be far more visible in western culture. Tragic, really, when one thinks of how the Dhamma would have been a welcome prescription for so many ills in the US at that time.

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Re: What are the hurdles hindering Dhamma propagation in the US?

Post by daverupa » Fri May 01, 2015 1:27 pm

Anagarika wrote:Instead we got Trungpa, "crazy wisdom," Vajra Regents with HIV, and Japanese Zen
...which gave us Alan Watts, and there was also the Beat Generation that got into it a little bit (Kerouac's Dharma Bums, Gary Snyder's interest, etc.), but you're right that we got some wild, fringe Buddhisms at first (I don't mind taking timely shots: the first exempla of Buddhism here were basically the skewed, relatively ahistorically-related refractions of distal Mahayana).
  • "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.

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Re: What are the hurdles hindering Dhamma propagation in the US?

Post by chownah » Fri May 01, 2015 2:03 pm

Maitri wrote:Chownah,

I don't disagree that the veneration of statues in Asia is prolific. But Bangkok is not Bangor, Maine; the West is not Asia. We aren't talking about the spread of Dhamma in Asia, but in the West.
We are in agreement in this. We are talking about the spread of the buddha's teachings in the west and it is my opinion that there is a widespread belief in specifically the US that buddhists worship idols. As a young person living in the US I was of the opinion that buddhists were idol worshippers.
Maitri wrote: The cultural dimensions of Buddhism in Thailand or India will most likely never be encountered by Westerners outside of a vacation travel. The fixation on ritual, amulets etc. is something for the East to resolve. That's not really an influence in the West as to why Buddhism is not more prevalent.
It seems you must be living in the 19th century before the advent of television adventure and travel shows. As a young person in the US I watched many of these and they probably are the basis for my views at that time that buddhists worshipped idols. Given that now we have the internet it is probably not at all uncommon for people to see what happens in buddhist temples in asia and everywhere else around the world and I am reasonably sure that upon seeing those images many americans will come up with the same ill informed opinion that buddhists are idolators.
Maitri wrote: As someone mentioned above, the West has a lack of even a steady monastic Sangha which is a core aspect of the Buddhist religion. Concern for dressing statues doesn't really rank for western people when they can't even locate a temple or center within 50 miles of their home.
My mentioning of the seasonal change of clothes for a particular statue and the reasoning of some Thai people was not meant to be as an influence on westerners although I think that undenialbly it is an influence for those who know of it. I mentioned it as part of the evidence that I use to claim that infact idol worship does exist among buddhists today.

You mention not being able to locate a temple.....indeed they do not want to locate a temple...why should they even want to do so? That is the question here....why don't they even want to investigate a buddhist temple?....my answer is that in a great part it is because they have no interest in idol worship which is what they wrongly or rightly think buddhists promote.

I guess the bottom line is that in my view one of the main reasons why it is difficult to spread buddhism to the US is that there is a wide spread belief based on uninformed bias AND BASED on FACT that buddhists worship idols. If there is one thing that a vast number of americans will not endorse it is idol worship....there is a very strong bias against it coming from the christian influence in the US and perhaps from other places as well.
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Re: What are the hurdles hindering Dhamma propagation in the US?

Post by chownah » Fri May 01, 2015 2:21 pm

In the US many people do not really consider zen to be buddhism....they intellectually know that zen is actually zen buddhism but usually it is just called zen and the buddhism part is just sort of mostly forgotten.

Zen, however is one of the more popular forms of buddhism in the US if you just consider how many non-buddhists express an interest in learning. I looked at the tassajara zen center website and could not find even one buddha image at all (didn't look on every page but did look on a few) nor could I find a single buddha image at the san fransisco zen center website. You won't see people worshipping idols at either of these zen related venues. My view is that this is one of the reasons why zen is more readily accepted in the US.
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Re: What are the hurdles hindering Dhamma propagation in the US?

Post by DNS » Fri May 01, 2015 3:45 pm

Southern California has a lot of Buddhists from the Asian immigration. A lot of Asian Buddhists settled along the West coast since it is 'closer' to their places of origin. Just as the Mexican immigrants mostly settle along the neighboring states of California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas; the Asians mostly settled along the West coast. In many parts of Southern Nevada and coastal California, the workers are all bilingual, either English-Spanish or English-Chinese.

And where the Asian Buddhists settle, the converts tend to come as they get more exposure to Buddhist temples, monks, and nuns.

And then of course, San Diego has the best beaches and best weather. :tongue:

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Re: What are the hurdles hindering Dhamma propagation in the US?

Post by Maitri » Fri May 01, 2015 10:06 pm

Chownah,

You clearly have an ax to grind regarding this idolatry angle.

As an American I can say that I've never been accused of being an idol worshiper when telling others I am Buddhist. Most reactions have ranged around the confused and amused spectrum.

Regarding Buddhism's spread in America the largest majority of people fall into two camps: apathetic or Christian. Most people just aren't that interested in pursuing a spiritual tradition, or if they are, stay within their own culture and comfort. To some hard core Christians all non-Christian religions are pretty much the same- no Jesus=hell. Most Americans couldn't being to tell you the differences between between a Buddhist monk an Iman or a Hare Krishna monk- they simply don't know and don't care.

Those who are inclined to learn more seek out temples or centers in their locality. Depending on where they are located, this may be difficult to achieve.
"Upon a heap of rubbish in the road-side ditch blooms a lotus, fragrant and pleasing.
Even so, on the rubbish heap of blinded mortals the disciple of the Supremely Enlightened One shines resplendent in wisdom." Dhammapada: Pupphavagga

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Re: What are the hurdles hindering Dhamma propagation in the US?

Post by jnak » Sat May 02, 2015 12:54 am

Anagarika wrote:...had there been a dynamic, Dhamma learned Theravada monk or nun in these early days, I feel the Dhamma would be far more visible in western culture.
I don't really see this. Theravada is a conservative religion. I once met an American monk in one of the Tibetan traditions who compared Theravada to Southern Baptists in the US. I'm not sure he was so far off the mark.

Looking at the US, the strongholds of conservatve religions tend to be the most economically disadvantaged populations. Those of more comfortable means seem to prefer religions that are more indulgent of one's interests in worldly pleasures or no religion at all.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu makes a point of saying that the Dhamma is countercultural, even in socities that are culturally Buddhist. I agree and for this reason, I have a hard time seeing Buddhism ever appealing to more than a small minority in the West.
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Re: What are the hurdles hindering Dhamma propagation in the US?

Post by chownah » Sat May 02, 2015 4:19 am

Maitri wrote:Chownah,

You clearly have an ax to grind regarding this idolatry angle.

As an American I can say that I've never been accused of being an idol worshiper when telling others I am Buddhist. Most reactions have ranged around the confused and amused spectrum.

Regarding Buddhism's spread in America the largest majority of people fall into two camps: apathetic or Christian. Most people just aren't that interested in pursuing a spiritual tradition, or if they are, stay within their own culture and comfort. To some hard core Christians all non-Christian religions are pretty much the same- no Jesus=hell. Most Americans couldn't being to tell you the differences between between a Buddhist monk an Iman or a Hare Krishna monk- they simply don't know and don't care.

Those who are inclined to learn more seek out temples or centers in their locality. Depending on where they are located, this may be difficult to achieve.
Any ax grinding is a product of your imagination. I have no problem with veneration of statues whether it constitutes idol worship or not. If people are going to worship idols it is probably better if they do so in a setting where they might encounter what the buddha taught. If people don't worship idols then so much the better. I do however think that it is idol worship whether real or imagined which is a major reason why americans are put off by buddhism.

I am not surprised that no one would call you an idol worshipper. Even those who think you are an idol worshipper are not likely to voice some kind of accusation like that.....they are more likely to just be confused or amused and to say nothing. Since idol worship is very likely seen as irrational and people are not usually into berating people over their irrationalities unless there is some issue which brings up the issue directly, it is not likely that you will hear an accusation of idolatry. Even when as a your person I thought that idolatry was the major part if not all of buddhism I would not have been so crude as to suggest to a buddhist directly that they were idol worshippers.....

I agree with your views that americans by and large just don't care about any sort of religious endeavor which might take them out of their comfort zone.
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Re: What are the hurdles hindering Dhamma propagation in the US?

Post by Anagarika » Sat May 02, 2015 12:18 pm

jnak wrote:
Anagarika wrote:...had there been a dynamic, Dhamma learned Theravada monk or nun in these early days, I feel the Dhamma would be far more visible in western culture.
I don't really see this. Theravada is a conservative religion. I once met an American monk in one of the Tibetan traditions who compared Theravada to Southern Baptists in the US. I'm not sure he was so far off the mark.

Looking at the US, the strongholds of conservatve religions tend to be the most economically disadvantaged populations. Those of more comfortable means seem to prefer religions that are more indulgent of one's interests in worldly pleasures or no religion at all.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu makes a point of saying that the Dhamma is countercultural, even in socities that are culturally Buddhist. I agree and for this reason, I have a hard time seeing Buddhism ever appealing to more than a small minority in the West.
Jnak, you make some good points. I agree that Theravada can be perceived as traditional, or as you used the term conservative. A comparison with Southern Baptists? I'm still mulling over that comparison. Southern Baptists are the largest Protestant church corporation in the US.

In any case, I agree that the Buddha's Dhamma runs opposite to a society bent on acquisition and consumerism, the feeding of sense pleasures, and a focus on "me" and the enhancement of the self. For this reason, the Dhamma may not be popular, insofar as, for example, we know that regular exercise and limiting our calorie intake is healthy, and look at the state of obesity and general poor eating McHabits we have in the US. I'd still make the argument that were there to be a skillful and popular advocate in the 60's that really introduced the Dhamma to the US, we might presently have a more centered view of the Buddha and the actual messages gained from his enlightenment.

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Re: What are the hurdles hindering Dhamma propagation in the US?

Post by jnak » Sat May 02, 2015 3:53 pm

Accounting for no more than 5% of the population, Southern Baptists are a small, but vocal minority within the US. However, I believe that comparison was made regarding a fundamentalist approach to doctrine and a literal interpretation of scripture. Where I think the comparson falls apart is in the application of that approach.

While I am no scholar, my read of the suttas is that they are consistent and form a coherent doctrine regarding the resolution of the fundamental problems of human existence. As the Buddha said, the Dhamma has but one taste throughout. Where as, the Bible has so many authors that one can find support for a wide variety of practices, many of them contradictory.
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Re: What are the hurdles hindering Dhamma propagation in the US?

Post by soapy3 » Sat May 02, 2015 5:38 pm

I'd like to offer a second opinion on what hinders the dhamma propagating in the US: presentation.

I actually think many Americans are ripe for it. I think many Americans realize that working harder for shrinking rewards to get more stuff isn't making them happier. Part of that is about survival. Funds for a secure retirement, funds to raise & educate their kids. Part of it is not knowing enough to live another way.

The dhamma, as presented via Theravada Buddhism just comes off as so dry and depressing.

That isn't something people who are already working hard to do things they don't have 100% faith in ( consumerism ) have time for.

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Re: What are the hurdles hindering Dhamma propagation in the US?

Post by Maitri » Sat May 02, 2015 8:04 pm

soapy3 wrote:I'd like to offer a second opinion on what hinders the dhamma propagating in the US: presentation.

I actually think many Americans are ripe for it. I think many Americans realize that working harder for shrinking rewards to get more stuff isn't making them happier. Part of that is about survival. Funds for a secure retirement, funds to raise & educate their kids. Part of it is not knowing enough to live another way.

The dhamma, as presented via Theravada Buddhism just comes off as so dry and depressing.

That isn't something people who are already working hard to do things they don't have 100% faith in ( consumerism ) have time for.
Yes, it's presentation is uninspired. Plus the overlay of ultra-liberalism that is a veneer over most presentations of the Dharma is heavily guilt tripping and shallow. I think this one reason why the secular/mindfulness camp has jettison a portion of the tradition- they don't feel people will respond to it.

Tibetan Buddhism for all its difficulties has at least a vivaciousness and color which attracts people. It has a lot of tools for people to work with: sadhana practice, chanting, art etc.. The presentation of Theravada has been mostly limit to Vipassana and some sutta chanting by monks. As the Boomer generation dies off, I'm sure we still start to see a decline in some of the established centers so dependent on their contributions. Maybe that will be an impetus to re-shape the presentation. Many of the people in these institutions still seem to pine for the 60's and 70's and carry those decades with them.

I'm not holding my breath, however.
"Upon a heap of rubbish in the road-side ditch blooms a lotus, fragrant and pleasing.
Even so, on the rubbish heap of blinded mortals the disciple of the Supremely Enlightened One shines resplendent in wisdom." Dhammapada: Pupphavagga

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Re: What are the hurdles hindering Dhamma propagation in the US?

Post by Anagarika » Sat May 02, 2015 9:36 pm

Whether folks here are fans of the Ajahn Chah-trained Ajahn Brahm's approach or not, his Bodinyana Monastery seems to be one template for the west to introduce Theravada and Dhamma to the west in a wholly compelling way. My expectation (my hope...my guess) is that he will open a Wat in the United States at some point, based on his Bodinyana model. There seems to be a real sense of community on a large scale there, a mix of Asian Buddhists as well as western converts, along with a real effort to develop a sense of community the way that, perhaps, XCtian churches in the US have been successful doing....reaching all areas of people's lives, inspiring them, providing services and support, and being the center of a community's spiritual and cultural and family development. The key will be for him to train a succession of compelling, dynamic monks and nuns to lead these new monasteries.

Of course, the Buddha did not teach the evangelization of his Dhamma; rather the forest tradition seems to protect the idea of the secluded renunciate monk and nun. Yet, we know that the Buddha traveled, and spoke to towns and cities that were not disciples of his. He is the paragon of renunciate life and seclusion practice; yet he did not live in a cave waiting for people to come to him. In the modern era, if the Dhamma is to be preserved carefully, and propagated, it seems to me that some flexibility is needed to allow for monasteries like Bodinyana to develop in the west, lead by charismatic leaders like Ajahn Brahm (and those with similar training and qualities) and those that he trains.

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Re: What are the hurdles hindering Dhamma propagation in the US?

Post by pilgrim » Sun May 03, 2015 7:53 am

Maitri wrote:
Yes, it's presentation is uninspired. Plus the overlay of ultra-liberalism that is a veneer over most presentations of the Dharma is heavily guilt tripping and shallow. I think this one reason why the secular/mindfulness camp has jettison a portion of the tradition- they don't feel people will respond to it.

Tibetan Buddhism for all its difficulties has at least a vivaciousness and color which attracts people. It has a lot of tools for people to work with: sadhana practice, chanting, art etc.. The presentation of Theravada has been mostly limit to Vipassana and some sutta chanting by monks. As the Boomer generation dies off, I'm sure we still start to see a decline in some of the established centers so dependent on their contributions. Maybe that will be an impetus to re-shape the presentation. Many of the people in these institutions still seem to pine for the 60's and 70's and carry those decades with them.

I'm not holding my breath, however.
It seems that in traditional countries, Theravada is presented in a more colourful way - the village fairs, paritta chanting, bathing the Buddha image, processions, making offerings of flowers and lights, the whole pantheon of religious faith. But these have not been introduced to the west in a big way because of the impression that westerners will pooh-pooh them as cultural baggage.

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Re: What are the hurdles hindering Dhamma propagation in the US?

Post by Maitri » Sun May 03, 2015 2:27 pm

pilgrim wrote:
Maitri wrote:
Yes, it's presentation is uninspired. Plus the overlay of ultra-liberalism that is a veneer over most presentations of the Dharma is heavily guilt tripping and shallow. I think this one reason why the secular/mindfulness camp has jettison a portion of the tradition- they don't feel people will respond to it.

Tibetan Buddhism for all its difficulties has at least a vivaciousness and color which attracts people. It has a lot of tools for people to work with: sadhana practice, chanting, art etc.. The presentation of Theravada has been mostly limit to Vipassana and some sutta chanting by monks. As the Boomer generation dies off, I'm sure we still start to see a decline in some of the established centers so dependent on their contributions. Maybe that will be an impetus to re-shape the presentation. Many of the people in these institutions still seem to pine for the 60's and 70's and carry those decades with them.

I'm not holding my breath, however.
It seems that in traditional countries, Theravada is presented in a more colourful way - the village fairs, paritta chanting, bathing the Buddha image, processions, making offerings of flowers and lights, the whole pantheon of religious faith. But these have not been introduced to the west in a big way because of the impression that westerners will pooh-pooh them as cultural baggage.
I would love to see more developments like this. Granted, it may not take the same shape and details, but even having festivals would be a start. Marking holidays is a start. Having enjoyable pujas is a start. This is important for community building within the laity. Gathering together as a community doesn't always have to be serious and strictly practice centered. It can actually.. gasp... be enjoyable and filled with some levity. Meeting for a cooking class or a picnic even. It's part of building trust, friendships, and growing in faith an practice.

The suttas are full of people actually enjoying the community and being happy to learn the Dhamma. We have got a heavy duty shadow of Puritan and general protestant dowdiness overshadowing Buddhism in the US.

Part of this somberness is also what makes it hard to show the Dhamma is for everyone. Presentations of Buddhism in the West are mostly about self-improvement, being neurotic about your progress, and over-wrought self flagellation with book titles like The Trauma of Everyday Life . Good grief, no wonder no one is interested. :thinking: Personally, I avoid most convert communities and most of the pop-schlock western Buddhist authors. It's overflowing with this stuff!

It amazes me that there is still this mind set that people will reject Buddhism because of too much baggage. Again, look at Tibetan Buddhism. The teachers encourage people to learn Tibetan, make tormas, wear malas and other religious items and it's a very popular and well received tradition with the general public. I don't buy that people won't accept the other aspects of the tradition if it is explained properly and given proper context.
"Upon a heap of rubbish in the road-side ditch blooms a lotus, fragrant and pleasing.
Even so, on the rubbish heap of blinded mortals the disciple of the Supremely Enlightened One shines resplendent in wisdom." Dhammapada: Pupphavagga

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/

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Re: What are the hurdles hindering Dhamma propagation in the US?

Post by Maitri » Sun May 03, 2015 2:40 pm

Anagarika wrote:
Of course, the Buddha did not teach the evangelization of his Dhamma; rather the forest tradition seems to protect the idea of the secluded renunciate monk and nun.
I disagree with you here. The Buddha and his disciples wandered everywhere and were more than open to answering questions of people who asked. I agree that the Buddha did not push a hard-core conversion policy. Absolutely not. But he was clear that the teachings should be widely available in the vernacular to reach all who were searching. He traveled to specific places just to preach and assist people therein.

The isolation and holding up in secluded monasteries didn't happen until later- after his death. He was on the road and still teaching up until he passed into Nibanna. In the Suttas people are coming to the Buddha all the time asking questions, seeking clarification etc.. He and the Sangha were very visible and approachable. He could have just passed on and never taught but people and Gods begged him to teach!
"Upon a heap of rubbish in the road-side ditch blooms a lotus, fragrant and pleasing.
Even so, on the rubbish heap of blinded mortals the disciple of the Supremely Enlightened One shines resplendent in wisdom." Dhammapada: Pupphavagga

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/

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Re: What are the hurdles hindering Dhamma propagation in the US?

Post by soapy3 » Sun May 03, 2015 3:17 pm

Anagarika wrote:Whether folks here are fans of the Ajahn Chah-trained Ajahn Brahm's approach or not, his Bodinyana Monastery seems to be one template for the west to introduce Theravada and Dhamma to the west in a wholly compelling way.
Agreed. AB is an original with his intelligence, communication skills, and personality. That can't be passed on. I rarely watch the other monks and nuns on his youtube channel. I think the hope is in AB's existence encouraging other people similar to him to teach in their own way.

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Re: What are the hurdles hindering Dhamma propagation in the US?

Post by mikenz66 » Sun May 03, 2015 7:32 pm

Maitri wrote:
pilgrim wrote: ....
It seems that in traditional countries, Theravada is presented in a more colourful way - the village fairs, paritta chanting, bathing the Buddha image, processions, making offerings of flowers and lights, the whole pantheon of religious faith. But these have not been introduced to the west in a big way because of the impression that westerners will pooh-pooh them as cultural baggage.
I would love to see more developments like this. Granted, it may not take the same shape and details, but even having festivals would be a start. Marking holidays is a start. Having enjoyable pujas is a start. This is important for community building within the laity. Gathering together as a community doesn't always have to be serious and strictly practice centered. It can actually.. gasp... be enjoyable and filled with some levity. ...
Which is, of course, the case in ethnic communities in the West. Which is why I enjoy spending time at my local Thai Wat. In my experience, Western-organised Buddhist-related events seem to be much more serious.

:anjali:
Mike

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