What are the hurdles hindering Dhamma propagation in the US?

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Anagarika
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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.
"...I'm not much of an expert when it comes to the texts. I've simply learned a few parts, and put them into practice." Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo

soapy3
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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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Maitri
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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

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/

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Anagarika
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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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Maitri
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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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Maitri
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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/

soapy3
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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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Re: What are the hurdles hindering Dhamma propagation in the US?

Post by tiltbillings » Sun May 03, 2015 7:56 pm

Anagarika wrote:
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.
Monastics are not the only qualified teachers of the Dhamma.
>> Do you see a man wise [enlightened/ariya] in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.<< -- Proverbs 26:12

This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond. -- SN I, 38.

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” HPatDH p.723

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

Post by MaeCheeWannabe » Fri Jan 01, 2016 9:05 am

As for the idol worship accusations...i was raised in tennessee and in my area it was drilled into us that Buddha is an idol. I am accused of "worshipping the golden calf" and idol worship a LOT and by my own relatives as well. This is not the majority...99% of people react politely, but in this state people get very prejudiced agagaunst anything not the same as themselves.
:anjali:
Mae Khao Noi

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

Post by thepea » Sat Jan 02, 2016 8:35 pm

Sati1 wrote:
Any ideas for why 40% of Buddhists in the U.S. live in Southern California?
It is the mountain ranges that shield the west coast from the harsher energy in the central states, also the pacific ocean absorbs much, leaving this location an ideal place for change.

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

Post by Maitri » Sat Jan 02, 2016 10:29 pm

thepea wrote:
Sati1 wrote:
Any ideas for why 40% of Buddhists in the U.S. live in Southern California?
It is the mountain ranges that shield the west coast from the harsher energy in the central states, also the pacific ocean absorbs much, leaving this location an ideal place for change.
I think the simpler and realistic answer is higher rates of immigration from Asia.
"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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The Thinker
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Re: What are the hurdles hindering Dhamma propagation in the US?

Post by The Thinker » Tue Jan 05, 2016 11:39 am

Does capitalism need Buddhism? - or who will feed the monks if everyone is a monk?
"Watch your heart, observe. Be the observer, be the knower, not the condition" Ajahn Sumedho volume5 - The Wheel Of Truth

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