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The Dalai Lama’s greatest failure Western Buddhism has been mugged by capitalism

Did he get off easily? (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Did he get off easily? (Mario Tama/Getty Images)


April 13, 2023   5 mins

Why does Buddhism get a free pass among religion’s cultured despisers? With the notable exception of the great Christopher Hitchens, who dished it out to all, most of the Western media hold Buddhism generally, and the Dalai Lama in particular, in a curious kind of uncritical respect that the Enlightenment was supposed to have freed us from. Or as Hitchens called it: “The widely and lazily held belief that ‘oriental’ religion is different from other faiths: less dogmatic, more contemplative, more… transcendental.”

So, when the Dalai Lama invites a young child to suck his tongue, defenders leap in to insist that this is just an unusual cultural practice that has become lost in translation. Westerners have a very different understanding of the erogenous: sticking out one’s tongue has a totally different meaning in Tibet than it does for us. It’s all a misunderstanding. And his holiness has a rather quirky sense of honour. He was “misguided” rather than “sleazy”, as one columnist in The Times put it. Hm.

Any other religion would have been hammered for such behaviour by its glorious leader — decried as yet another example of clerical perverts believing themselves free to molest the vulnerable. Admittedly, the Dalai Lama hasn’t tried to defend his actions; rather, he has apologised to the child and his family “for the hurt his words may have caused”. But it was a politician’s apology. “His holiness often teases people he meets in an innocent and playful way,” his PR machine added.

And he hasn’t resigned, of course. He can’t. This 87-year-old monk — with his 19 million Twitter followers (more than the Pope) — has been recognised as the reincarnation of one of the Buddhas since he was two. Former guest editor of French Vogue and Nobel Laureate, the Dalai Lama is feted wherever he goes. He is, along with Bill Gates and Bono, the first person of the Davos Holy Trinity. And yet when His Holiness says that refugees should return to their own home countries and that “Europe belongs to the Europeans”, his remarks get chalked up to cultural differences. Other famous Buddhists include the current Home Secretary Suella Braverman, whose views on refugees are not wholly dissimilar. Likewise, when violent Buddhist nationalists attack Tamil Hindus in Sri Lanka or the Muslim Rohingya in Myanmar, the association between Buddhism and peace and harmony is rarely dented.

There is little new about our peculiar infatuation with Eastern religions. Since the 19th century, as Christianity was defending itself against Darwinism, philosophers such as Schopenhauer were lauding the wisdom of the Buddhist philosophy of the self. This was the beginning of the idea that one could be spiritual without being religious. Frauds such as Madame Blavatsky, one of the earliest converts to Buddhism in the US, drew upon her time in India to found the Theosophical Society, a strange kind of synthesis of cod science, Western philosophy and half-digested Eastern mysticism. Fabians such as Annie Besant, former member of the National Secular Society, were taken in. The appeal to increasingly sceptical Westerners was that you could have all the richness of the inner life offered by religion without all the doctrinal baggage of believing in God.

From California hippies turned tech moguls, to sunrise worship on the Tel Aviv beach, Buddhism came to be stripped of its rootedness in specific forms of life and native theological rigour. It was transformed into a kind of stale mindfulness that does little to challenge the injustices of the world. The original big idea of Buddhism was that suffering could be avoided if one were to renounce the material world and the nagging call of worldly desire. Extinguishing the ego is a demanding spiritual practice and one that doesn’t sit comfortably alongside the desire amplifying mechanisms of capitalism. The Buddha found nirvana after many years of praying, meditating and fasting, finally gaining enlightenment after meditating for days under a fig tree. Whatever the processes involved here, there are clearly no short cuts or cheat codes.

It shows how much Buddhism has been gutted for Western consumption that it is now the ambient spirituality of Silicon Valley. Corporate Buddhism serves to untangle the frayed nerves and soothe the troubled consciences of those who exercise great power in the world. The Buddha believed in the interconnectedness of all things; content-lite corporate Buddhism believes in the Internet. It is hardly surprising that the Dalai Lama has been used as the face of an advertising campaign for Apple Computers. Steve Jobs was himself a Buddhist. For years, he held weekly meetings with monks in his office. Spirituality is religion that has been mugged by capitalism.

Of course, Christianity experienced its own corporate capture by the Roman empire centuries ago. Last week, Christians commemorated the death of Jesus on a Roman instrument of terror. Within a few centuries, Rome had become the global headquarters of a religion founded in His name. Yet the only possible way for religious institutions to survive is to have an extremely well-developed sense of self-critical vigilance. It helps if our religions do not have a morally upstanding history, because it takes a leap of faith to believe in them. Henry VIII and Anglicanism: how could anyone worship in an organisation with an origin story so poisonous and ridiculous? That is one of the things I value most about my religious tradition: I cannot imagine ever committing the sin of falling in love with it.

It may well be that the Buddha’s insistence that he should not be seen as some sort of divinity was a clever attempt to sabotage a belief in Buddhism itself. But this is widely seen today as a positive feature of Buddhism, something that fits neatly beside modern scepticism. The problem is, it robs Buddhism of precisely that self-critical vigilance. It makes people believe that this religion can be good and safe. And that’s a very dangerous thing. Modern Western Buddhism — and I suspect it is very different in its original form — thinks of itself too highly, different from the “bad” religions of Christianity and Islam, and so has let its guard down. Which may be why Buddhism is the latest religion to experience a take-over by the forces of secular power.

The greatest failure of the Dalai Lama is his failure to understand this transformation, which has been taking place in his name. Or perhaps he doesn’t care, concerned far more by the future of Tibet and the threat posed by the Chinese Communist Party who annexed his homeland in 1951. When the current Dalai Lama dies — at 113, according to one of his visions — the Chinese have said they will nominate his successor. Whether by corporate California or Communist China, the Dalai Lama’s own brand of Buddhism is being stripped for its parts.

It’s true: I don’t see the attraction of modern Western Buddhism. Its defenders will say that I just don’t get it, which is fair enough. But I do get that it’s too often used as a bit of spiritual fluff to sit uncritically alongside whatever path one has chosen in life. Christianity is rightly called out for when it does this, as is Islam and Judaism. Why does Buddhism get off so lightly?


Giles Fraser is a journalist, broadcaster and Vicar of St Anne’s, Kew.

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N Forster
N Forster
1 year ago

It is perfectly reasonable to be appalled by the recent behaviour of the Dalai Lama.  

Let’s see if more episodes come to light?

As for Giles, it would have been wiser to discuss this article with someone who actually knows about Buddhism. Or to have done some research.

Where he is correct is in that much of what we get served in the West in “Buddhist Modernism.” 

It isn’t Buddhism.

There is an excellent short essay by Ajahn Thannissaro on the topic of how well Buddhism has morphed into something modern and familiar in the West. 

The Roots of Buddhist Romanticism

https://www.dhammatalks.org/books/PurityOfHeart/Section0009.html

If you wish to go into more depth, read David L. McMahan – “The making of Buddhist Modernism. Here he describes just how modern Buddhist teachers from both the West and Asia have twisted, ignored, inverted and misrepresented scripture in order to make a more marketable product. 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Making-Buddhist-Modernism-David-McMahan/dp/0195183274/ref=sr_1_1?crid=1I1DTL68M04VY&keywords=the+making+of+buddhist+modernism&qid=1681375053&sprefix=the+making+of+buddhist+modernism%2Caps%2C414&sr=8-1

As for Buddhis violence in Asia – There is nothing in the Pali Canon to support the violent actions of Burmese Buddhists nor Singhalese Buddhists. Both situations should be seen as cultural and historical – they are not without context or history. The cycle ov violence has been going on for many decades. Sad to say much blame for both situations can be placed at the feet of the British who imported large numbers of Muslins from what is now Bangladesh into Burma and large numbers of Hindu Tamils into north Sri Lanka. The violence started in both countries almost immediately. And has occasionally stopped since. But as I said, there is nothing you can find in the Pali Canon to support the actions of the attackers. They are the owners of their own kamma.

Now onto Giles inaccuracies in the piece:

The original “big idea” of Buddhism was not that suffering could be avoided by renouncing worldly desire. The big idea is The Four Noble Truths. – That Dukkha exists, that its’ cause is ignorance that manifests as craving and unwise reaction, that a path exists out of dukkah, and that the path is the 8 fold noble path. This does indeed lean towards renunciation, but there is far more to it than that.

Likewise Buddhism does not set about to change the injustices of the world. Actually, from the perspective of kamma, there are no injustices in the world.

Cula-kammavibhanga Sutta: The Shorter Exposition of Kamma

https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.135.nymo.html

Interconnectedness – this is become front and centre in Buddhist Modernism but the concept is not to be seen in the Pali Canon. Again, see the essay by Thanissaro.

It is perfectly reasonable for a Christian not to be interested in Buddhism. But it might be an idea to know something about the topic before writing about it. 

 

M. Jamieson
MJ
M. Jamieson
1 year ago
Reply to  N Forster

I’m not sure he was writing about it – he was talking about what it has become in the west, and he’s quite right that it seems to have been spared the kinds of criticism western religions have had for their historical actions, even where the motivations were really not spiritual at all but came out of politics.

N Forster
NF
N Forster
1 year ago
Reply to  M. Jamieson

In order to write about what it has become in the west it would be helpful to know what it was in the east. And he clearly doesn’t. Even when comparing western Buddhism with what he thinks is the ideal, he is in fact comparing it Modern Buddhism with Modern Buddhism, as his comments about “interconnectedness” show.

Nick Nahlous
NN
Nick Nahlous
1 year ago
Reply to  N Forster

……………

Last edited 1 year ago by Nick Nahlous
Nick Nahlous
Nick Nahlous
1 year ago
Reply to  N Forster

……………

Last edited 1 year ago by Nick Nahlous
N Forster
NF
N Forster
1 year ago
Reply to  M. Jamieson

In order to write about what it has become in the west it would be helpful to know what it was in the east. And he clearly doesn’t. Even when comparing western Buddhism with what he thinks is the ideal, he is in fact comparing it Modern Buddhism with Modern Buddhism, as his comments about “interconnectedness” show.

Jerry Smith
Jerry Smith
1 year ago
Reply to  N Forster

I’m afraid you have the Sri Lankan situation wrong. While I’m no apologist for colonialism, the history of conflict (and sometimes co-operation) between the Tamil (mainly Hindu) and Sinhalese (mainly Buddhist) communities long predates British rule and has been about land and economic power rather than religion – each community worships in the other’s temples and kovils for example. And while the British did import large numbers of Tamils to work on the plantations these ‘estate Tamils’ have no real connection with the so-called ‘Jaffna Tamils’ who have lived in Sri Lanka for a couple of millennia – about as long as the Sinhalese who also aren’t indigenous to the island. The civil war was essentially between the Jaffna Tamils from whom the LTTE drew its support and the Sinhalese. The British-imported estate Tamils had no dog in the fight – the Jaffna Tamils care as little about their welfare as the Sinhalese do and they are the real sufferers in the distorted politics of Sri Lanka – no matter what the Tamil diaspora may say to their western sympathisers. Where the Brits are culpable – to an extent – was in promoting the generally more loyal Tamils to positions of power before independence – and this led to some Sinhalese noses being put out of joint and to a majoritarian backlash against the Tamils from the mid-1950s. Buddhism and the Sinhala language formed convenient cloaks for this, but it was never a religious conflict.

Nick Nahlous
NN
Nick Nahlous
1 year ago
Reply to  N Forster

……

Last edited 1 year ago by Nick Nahlous
M. Jamieson
M. Jamieson
1 year ago
Reply to  N Forster

I’m not sure he was writing about it – he was talking about what it has become in the west, and he’s quite right that it seems to have been spared the kinds of criticism western religions have had for their historical actions, even where the motivations were really not spiritual at all but came out of politics.

Jerry Smith
Jerry Smith
1 year ago
Reply to  N Forster

I’m afraid you have the Sri Lankan situation wrong. While I’m no apologist for colonialism, the history of conflict (and sometimes co-operation) between the Tamil (mainly Hindu) and Sinhalese (mainly Buddhist) communities long predates British rule and has been about land and economic power rather than religion – each community worships in the other’s temples and kovils for example. And while the British did import large numbers of Tamils to work on the plantations these ‘estate Tamils’ have no real connection with the so-called ‘Jaffna Tamils’ who have lived in Sri Lanka for a couple of millennia – about as long as the Sinhalese who also aren’t indigenous to the island. The civil war was essentially between the Jaffna Tamils from whom the LTTE drew its support and the Sinhalese. The British-imported estate Tamils had no dog in the fight – the Jaffna Tamils care as little about their welfare as the Sinhalese do and they are the real sufferers in the distorted politics of Sri Lanka – no matter what the Tamil diaspora may say to their western sympathisers. Where the Brits are culpable – to an extent – was in promoting the generally more loyal Tamils to positions of power before independence – and this led to some Sinhalese noses being put out of joint and to a majoritarian backlash against the Tamils from the mid-1950s. Buddhism and the Sinhala language formed convenient cloaks for this, but it was never a religious conflict.

Nick Nahlous
Nick Nahlous
1 year ago
Reply to  N Forster

……

Last edited 1 year ago by Nick Nahlous
N Forster
NF
N Forster
1 year ago

It is perfectly reasonable to be appalled by the recent behaviour of the Dalai Lama.  

Let’s see if more episodes come to light?

As for Giles, it would have been wiser to discuss this article with someone who actually knows about Buddhism. Or to have done some research.

Where he is correct is in that much of what we get served in the West in “Buddhist Modernism.” 

It isn’t Buddhism.

There is an excellent short essay by Ajahn Thannissaro on the topic of how well Buddhism has morphed into something modern and familiar in the West. 

The Roots of Buddhist Romanticism

https://www.dhammatalks.org/books/PurityOfHeart/Section0009.html

If you wish to go into more depth, read David L. McMahan – “The making of Buddhist Modernism. Here he describes just how modern Buddhist teachers from both the West and Asia have twisted, ignored, inverted and misrepresented scripture in order to make a more marketable product. 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Making-Buddhist-Modernism-David-McMahan/dp/0195183274/ref=sr_1_1?crid=1I1DTL68M04VY&keywords=the+making+of+buddhist+modernism&qid=1681375053&sprefix=the+making+of+buddhist+modernism%2Caps%2C414&sr=8-1

As for Buddhis violence in Asia – There is nothing in the Pali Canon to support the violent actions of Burmese Buddhists nor Singhalese Buddhists. Both situations should be seen as cultural and historical – they are not without context or history. The cycle ov violence has been going on for many decades. Sad to say much blame for both situations can be placed at the feet of the British who imported large numbers of Muslins from what is now Bangladesh into Burma and large numbers of Hindu Tamils into north Sri Lanka. The violence started in both countries almost immediately. And has occasionally stopped since. But as I said, there is nothing you can find in the Pali Canon to support the actions of the attackers. They are the owners of their own kamma.

Now onto Giles inaccuracies in the piece:

The original “big idea” of Buddhism was not that suffering could be avoided by renouncing worldly desire. The big idea is The Four Noble Truths. – That Dukkha exists, that its’ cause is ignorance that manifests as craving and unwise reaction, that a path exists out of dukkah, and that the path is the 8 fold noble path. This does indeed lean towards renunciation, but there is far more to it than that.

Likewise Buddhism does not set about to change the injustices of the world. Actually, from the perspective of kamma, there are no injustices in the world.

Cula-kammavibhanga Sutta: The Shorter Exposition of Kamma

https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.135.nymo.html

Interconnectedness – this is become front and centre in Buddhist Modernism but the concept is not to be seen in the Pali Canon. Again, see the essay by Thanissaro.

It is perfectly reasonable for a Christian not to be interested in Buddhism. But it might be an idea to know something about the topic before writing about it. 

 

Jeremy Bray
JB
Jeremy Bray
1 year ago

From the tenor of his article Giles Fraser presumably disapproves of this “controversial” statement of the Dali Lama: “Receive them, help them, educate them … but ultimately they should develop their own country,” the 83-year-old said, when speaking about refugees. .. I think Europe belongs to the Europeans.”

And yet is it not a greater piece of wisdom than the unrealistic idea that Europe should take in all whose lives carry greater risk in their home country however distant to Europe than they would in Europe. The European Convention on Refugees was initiated in the shadow of a genocidal regime in Germany whose refugees sought refuge in neighbouring countries of a similar cultural nature and the refugees did not seek to impose their own values on the countries that took them in.

While Buddhism, like any man made religion, has its faults its history stacks up well compared to the blood soaked history of Christianity and the Muslim faiths.

Last edited 1 year ago by Jeremy Bray
Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Rather a lot of “presumes” in your comments, which aren’t warranted by anything Giles Fraser actually said! The article isn’t about immigration policy.

Selwyn Jones
SD
Selwyn Jones
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Much truth in your diagnosis of Fraser’s motives. As a devoted leftist, he is no doubt incensed by the D. L’s defence of besieged Europe. My response to this article is to suggest that people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. For if the poor old Lama is a dupe of so-called “capitalism”, Fraser is clearly one of the many Christian apologists for modern globalist socialism. Where, I wonder, do his loyalties really lie? With the Gospel? Or with Marx?

Nathan Sapio
Nathan Sapio
1 year ago
Reply to  Selwyn Jones

What in the sweet world are you talking about? What was one leftist idea in the piece? I can only imagine a comment like this coming from a lack of reading completion or compensation

Nathan Sapio
Nathan Sapio
1 year ago
Reply to  Selwyn Jones

What in the sweet world are you talking about? What was one leftist idea in the piece? I can only imagine a comment like this coming from a lack of reading completion or compensation

Campbell P
Campbell P
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Christianity, perverted by the state but founded on the compelling historical evidence of the resurrection. Buddhism founded on myths and the imagination, perverted by the self-indulgent self-styled ‘Liberals’.

Paul Grimaldi
PG
Paul Grimaldi
1 year ago
Reply to  Campbell P

“Compelling evidence of the resurrection”? After 2000 years that would be something. Frankly all this “my religion is truer than your religion” talk is simply evidence of people’s ability to see the world through their chosen lenses. Oh to hear of someone who has looked critically at their beliefs and found them hard to justify.

Paul Grimaldi
PG
Paul Grimaldi
1 year ago
Reply to  Campbell P

“Compelling evidence of the resurrection”? After 2000 years that would be something. Frankly all this “my religion is truer than your religion” talk is simply evidence of people’s ability to see the world through their chosen lenses. Oh to hear of someone who has looked critically at their beliefs and found them hard to justify.

simon deeming
simon deeming
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Popped

Anyone interested in these topics should read wisdom in exile by Lama Jampa Thaye, or watch some of the excellent Wisdom in Exile Radio YouTube videos by his students. Here’s a good one… https://youtu.be/s2feVXueXH4

Walter Wirlo
WW
Walter Wirlo
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

And let us not forget the present day apartheid regime of Israel and numerous military actions against Palestinians civilians that is condoned, supported and financed by most of the world’s Judaic population and by the Christian population of the US as well. By the way, the Dalai Lama was and may still be in the payroll of the CIA, in the US bid to destabilize China.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Rather a lot of “presumes” in your comments, which aren’t warranted by anything Giles Fraser actually said! The article isn’t about immigration policy.

Selwyn Jones
SD
Selwyn Jones
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Much truth in your diagnosis of Fraser’s motives. As a devoted leftist, he is no doubt incensed by the D. L’s defence of besieged Europe. My response to this article is to suggest that people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. For if the poor old Lama is a dupe of so-called “capitalism”, Fraser is clearly one of the many Christian apologists for modern globalist socialism. Where, I wonder, do his loyalties really lie? With the Gospel? Or with Marx?

Campbell P
Campbell P
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Christianity, perverted by the state but founded on the compelling historical evidence of the resurrection. Buddhism founded on myths and the imagination, perverted by the self-indulgent self-styled ‘Liberals’.

simon deeming
simon deeming
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Popped

Anyone interested in these topics should read wisdom in exile by Lama Jampa Thaye, or watch some of the excellent Wisdom in Exile Radio YouTube videos by his students. Here’s a good one… https://youtu.be/s2feVXueXH4

Walter Wirlo
Walter Wirlo
1 year ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

And let us not forget the present day apartheid regime of Israel and numerous military actions against Palestinians civilians that is condoned, supported and financed by most of the world’s Judaic population and by the Christian population of the US as well. By the way, the Dalai Lama was and may still be in the payroll of the CIA, in the US bid to destabilize China.

Jeremy Bray
JB
Jeremy Bray
1 year ago

From the tenor of his article Giles Fraser presumably disapproves of this “controversial” statement of the Dali Lama: “Receive them, help them, educate them … but ultimately they should develop their own country,” the 83-year-old said, when speaking about refugees. .. I think Europe belongs to the Europeans.”

And yet is it not a greater piece of wisdom than the unrealistic idea that Europe should take in all whose lives carry greater risk in their home country however distant to Europe than they would in Europe. The European Convention on Refugees was initiated in the shadow of a genocidal regime in Germany whose refugees sought refuge in neighbouring countries of a similar cultural nature and the refugees did not seek to impose their own values on the countries that took them in.

While Buddhism, like any man made religion, has its faults its history stacks up well compared to the blood soaked history of Christianity and the Muslim faiths.

Last edited 1 year ago by Jeremy Bray
Seb Dakin
Seb Dakin
1 year ago

There are a vast number of different sets of religious beliefs that go under the title ‘Buddhism’, some with, some without, various hells, promised lands, deities etc. If these weren’t called Buddhism they would be seen as completely different religions (when the Christians first showed up in Japan, the Japanese thought it was another version of Buddhism).
If Buddhism gets off lightly it’s probably because the various manifestations of it constitute something too diverse to be a hittable target.
It is a philosophy that adopted and lived by, can help make life more livable, and do so without one having to believe in one or more gods. And without God, you’ve no excuses, and forgiveness is something you have to earn from your fellow man. It really is you who’s responsible*. It would do the world no harm if more people thought that way.
*Which is unfortunately probably why so much of the usual detritus has attached itself to the various different strains of Buddhism over the centuries.

J Calzeat
J Calzeat
1 year ago
Reply to  Seb Dakin

25 years ago a book was written warning westerners about adopting and promoting Tibetan Buddhism uncritically. ‘TRAVELLER IN SPACE – Gender, Identity and Tibetan Buddhism, by June Campbell, (Continuum/Bloomsbury) set out the use of boys in the system, and inherent misogyny. Buddhists ignored it but maybe will read it now, to make sense of the DalaiLama’s actions

Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
1 year ago
Reply to  Seb Dakin

Buddhist philosophers of both the West and the East notwithstanding, most Buddhists in Asia do believe in “one or more gods.” A visit to almost any Buddhist temple anywhere in the world would confirm this. Even the Buddha himself never denied the existence of gods and spirits. These beings could help people by curing snakebites, say, or bringing rain for the crops. The Buddha denied only that gods or spirits could help people attaining the ultimate goal: liberation from the cycle of birth, death and rebirth (because the gods, too, needed liberation).
But so what if some Buddhists don’t believe in one or more gods? They have to believe in something. And even though Buddhist philosophers insist that both the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path rely on nothing other than observation and logic, the fact is that they themselves have spent centuries arguing with great subtlety about the doctrines (which are far from self-evident to most people) of various Buddhist schools.

J Calzeat
J Calzeat
1 year ago
Reply to  Seb Dakin

25 years ago a book was written warning westerners about adopting and promoting Tibetan Buddhism uncritically. ‘TRAVELLER IN SPACE – Gender, Identity and Tibetan Buddhism, by June Campbell, (Continuum/Bloomsbury) set out the use of boys in the system, and inherent misogyny. Buddhists ignored it but maybe will read it now, to make sense of the DalaiLama’s actions

Paul Nathanson
Paul Nathanson
1 year ago
Reply to  Seb Dakin

Buddhist philosophers of both the West and the East notwithstanding, most Buddhists in Asia do believe in “one or more gods.” A visit to almost any Buddhist temple anywhere in the world would confirm this. Even the Buddha himself never denied the existence of gods and spirits. These beings could help people by curing snakebites, say, or bringing rain for the crops. The Buddha denied only that gods or spirits could help people attaining the ultimate goal: liberation from the cycle of birth, death and rebirth (because the gods, too, needed liberation).
But so what if some Buddhists don’t believe in one or more gods? They have to believe in something. And even though Buddhist philosophers insist that both the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path rely on nothing other than observation and logic, the fact is that they themselves have spent centuries arguing with great subtlety about the doctrines (which are far from self-evident to most people) of various Buddhist schools.

Seb Dakin
Seb Dakin
1 year ago

There are a vast number of different sets of religious beliefs that go under the title ‘Buddhism’, some with, some without, various hells, promised lands, deities etc. If these weren’t called Buddhism they would be seen as completely different religions (when the Christians first showed up in Japan, the Japanese thought it was another version of Buddhism).
If Buddhism gets off lightly it’s probably because the various manifestations of it constitute something too diverse to be a hittable target.
It is a philosophy that adopted and lived by, can help make life more livable, and do so without one having to believe in one or more gods. And without God, you’ve no excuses, and forgiveness is something you have to earn from your fellow man. It really is you who’s responsible*. It would do the world no harm if more people thought that way.
*Which is unfortunately probably why so much of the usual detritus has attached itself to the various different strains of Buddhism over the centuries.

Nik Jewell
Nik Jewell
1 year ago

I have been fortunate to spend a few wonderful months in Mongolia and Tibet, both places where Buddhism has merged with the pre-existing shamanic religion, and whilst I have seen some very strange things, I have never seen the slightest hint of inappropriate behaviour towards a child (in which I include ‘tongue-sucking’, which is not a ‘thing’ that I have any knowledge or experience of). It would simply be naive to suggest that no sexual abuse of minors could possibly happen in a Tibetan monastery, but the chances of this incident being the tip of the iceberg of serial abuse from the Dalai Lama are, frankly, implausible.
The unbelievably harsh existence and crystal clear moisture-free air of the high-altitude Tibetan desert plateau, much like deserts everywhere, inclines the mind to the spiritual. One afternoon, I was in the Barkhor (the square in front of the Jokhang temple) in Lhasa when the crowds fell silent with the appearance of some weird form of sundog or similar phenomenon in the sky. Some were in delighted awe of it, others looked frightened, and some prostrated to it. I can easily imagine that for many, being at the spiritual centre of their religion, this will have been a profound moment. For many, including the modernising Chinese, it is superstitious ‘god of the gaps’ nonsense. I mention this because it offers a little insight into how a Tibetan nomad might be thinking about the Dalai Lama incident (if they hear of it). It is most assuredly very different to how many are treating it in our country.
About a hundred miles north of Lhasa, I happened by accident across hundreds of Tibetans sitting in reverential awe before a tulku, a reincarnate lama, about 10 years old. He was sitting on a pedestal, about a metre above the ground, as elderly lamas tended to his every need, carried out his instructions, and others prostrated before him. Some might be delighted by this, while others might think of it as a form of child abuse.
Tibet is a state of mind for many Westerners, a romantic ideal (it was to my younger self). Little resembling that exists in reality. Nobody can read about the feudal theocracy of the past and find much to celebrate in it. I’ve watched the Dalai Lama video; the child is uncomfortable, and no sugar-coating can ever change that. To the extent that we should judge other cultures by our own standards, a highly contestable matter in itself (the attacks on DWEMs, moral confusion about the World Cup etc.), we should judge them equally.

Nik Jewell
NJ
Nik Jewell
1 year ago

I have been fortunate to spend a few wonderful months in Mongolia and Tibet, both places where Buddhism has merged with the pre-existing shamanic religion, and whilst I have seen some very strange things, I have never seen the slightest hint of inappropriate behaviour towards a child (in which I include ‘tongue-sucking’, which is not a ‘thing’ that I have any knowledge or experience of). It would simply be naive to suggest that no sexual abuse of minors could possibly happen in a Tibetan monastery, but the chances of this incident being the tip of the iceberg of serial abuse from the Dalai Lama are, frankly, implausible.
The unbelievably harsh existence and crystal clear moisture-free air of the high-altitude Tibetan desert plateau, much like deserts everywhere, inclines the mind to the spiritual. One afternoon, I was in the Barkhor (the square in front of the Jokhang temple) in Lhasa when the crowds fell silent with the appearance of some weird form of sundog or similar phenomenon in the sky. Some were in delighted awe of it, others looked frightened, and some prostrated to it. I can easily imagine that for many, being at the spiritual centre of their religion, this will have been a profound moment. For many, including the modernising Chinese, it is superstitious ‘god of the gaps’ nonsense. I mention this because it offers a little insight into how a Tibetan nomad might be thinking about the Dalai Lama incident (if they hear of it). It is most assuredly very different to how many are treating it in our country.
About a hundred miles north of Lhasa, I happened by accident across hundreds of Tibetans sitting in reverential awe before a tulku, a reincarnate lama, about 10 years old. He was sitting on a pedestal, about a metre above the ground, as elderly lamas tended to his every need, carried out his instructions, and others prostrated before him. Some might be delighted by this, while others might think of it as a form of child abuse.
Tibet is a state of mind for many Westerners, a romantic ideal (it was to my younger self). Little resembling that exists in reality. Nobody can read about the feudal theocracy of the past and find much to celebrate in it. I’ve watched the Dalai Lama video; the child is uncomfortable, and no sugar-coating can ever change that. To the extent that we should judge other cultures by our own standards, a highly contestable matter in itself (the attacks on DWEMs, moral confusion about the World Cup etc.), we should judge them equally.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago

I found this article interesting, not least for the author’s revelation that the next Dalai Lama could be chosen by the CCP; no doubt to be immediately rejected as a stooge by Buddhists the world over.

But is Giles Fraser complaining about Bhuddism getting off lightly, or is he really trying to make a case for religions which demand a leap of faith which many are no longer prepared to take? If he’s suggesting there’s virtue in the ‘leap of faith’ variety which is absent from Bhuddism, he’s answering his own question in a sense, since there can be no inherent virtue in leaping for the sake of it.

Still, the article also serves as a reminder of the symbiotic relationship between religions and the politico-cultural milieu in which they arise, prosper and fade. Each serves a purpose, until they’re no longer able to do so. The CCP might agree, as would Constantine, the Medicis in their own time and place, not to mention good old Henry Vlll.

Last edited 1 year ago by Steve Murray
Steve Murray
LL
Steve Murray
1 year ago

I found this article interesting, not least for the author’s revelation that the next Dalai Lama could be chosen by the CCP; no doubt to be immediately rejected as a stooge by Buddhists the world over.

But is Giles Fraser complaining about Bhuddism getting off lightly, or is he really trying to make a case for religions which demand a leap of faith which many are no longer prepared to take? If he’s suggesting there’s virtue in the ‘leap of faith’ variety which is absent from Bhuddism, he’s answering his own question in a sense, since there can be no inherent virtue in leaping for the sake of it.

Still, the article also serves as a reminder of the symbiotic relationship between religions and the politico-cultural milieu in which they arise, prosper and fade. Each serves a purpose, until they’re no longer able to do so. The CCP might agree, as would Constantine, the Medicis in their own time and place, not to mention good old Henry Vlll.

Last edited 1 year ago by Steve Murray
Russell Hamilton
RH
Russell Hamilton
1 year ago

“Why does Buddhism get a free pass among religion’s cultured despisers?”

Because it isn’t Christianity, which, basically, has been done to death in Western societies. Christianity is, like, so heavy. Depressing really. All that’s left is the buildings. Stone. By way of reaction we look around and there is Buddhism. It isn’t shouting at us. It’s tentative, polite, suggestive and linked to meditation and yoga … quite appealing.

By way of Madame Blavatsky (she was easy to find because the Theosophical Society was in a building directly opposite the State Library, where I spent a lot of time) I found my way to Alan Watts, and after reading him, moved on to Easewaran, and a whole lot of similar writers stocked in the Theosophical Society bookshop (Gurdjieff was interesting). All of this was so welcome after 12 years of Catholic school and learning the Catechism off by heart!

The popularisers of Buddhism spoke precisely to what was missing in a conventional western religious education. A bit like going to music lessons where the teacher put the metronome on, and rapped you over the knuckles for not phrasing something properly … the soul of the music wasn’t considered, it was all mechanics. The Buddhist popularisers spoke of the soul.

I have read a bit more seriously on Buddhism since my visits to the Theosophical Society bookshop as a teenager, but basically, like most westerners, I just enjoy the vibe. A few years ago I visited San Francisco, and of course had to stay in the Haight Ashbury area … and there opposite my very nice B&B was the San Francisco Zen Centre, so I went in and listened to a lecture – very nice. Would I have gone into a Catholic Church to listen to a Catholic lecture? Nope, I’d heard enough to last a lifetime.

Last edited 1 year ago by Russell Hamilton
Richard Abbot
RA
Richard Abbot
1 year ago

Chesterton entered the chat:
“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting, It has been found difficult, and left untried.”

Richard Abbot
Richard Abbot
1 year ago

Chesterton entered the chat:
“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting, It has been found difficult, and left untried.”

Russell Hamilton
RH
Russell Hamilton
1 year ago

“Why does Buddhism get a free pass among religion’s cultured despisers?”

Because it isn’t Christianity, which, basically, has been done to death in Western societies. Christianity is, like, so heavy. Depressing really. All that’s left is the buildings. Stone. By way of reaction we look around and there is Buddhism. It isn’t shouting at us. It’s tentative, polite, suggestive and linked to meditation and yoga … quite appealing.

By way of Madame Blavatsky (she was easy to find because the Theosophical Society was in a building directly opposite the State Library, where I spent a lot of time) I found my way to Alan Watts, and after reading him, moved on to Easewaran, and a whole lot of similar writers stocked in the Theosophical Society bookshop (Gurdjieff was interesting). All of this was so welcome after 12 years of Catholic school and learning the Catechism off by heart!

The popularisers of Buddhism spoke precisely to what was missing in a conventional western religious education. A bit like going to music lessons where the teacher put the metronome on, and rapped you over the knuckles for not phrasing something properly … the soul of the music wasn’t considered, it was all mechanics. The Buddhist popularisers spoke of the soul.

I have read a bit more seriously on Buddhism since my visits to the Theosophical Society bookshop as a teenager, but basically, like most westerners, I just enjoy the vibe. A few years ago I visited San Francisco, and of course had to stay in the Haight Ashbury area … and there opposite my very nice B&B was the San Francisco Zen Centre, so I went in and listened to a lecture – very nice. Would I have gone into a Catholic Church to listen to a Catholic lecture? Nope, I’d heard enough to last a lifetime.

Last edited 1 year ago by Russell Hamilton
David Lindsay
David Lindsay
1 year ago

On this, on Margaret Thatcher, and on the Wagner Group, my comments have been taken down, in this case within seconds of having been posted. I pay for this.

Steve Murray
LL
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

Might a Buddhist approach help?

Andrew McDonald
AM
Andrew McDonald
1 year ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

Ah, the sound of one hand commenting!

Nick Nahlous
Nick Nahlous
1 year ago

Very humorous.

Nick Nahlous
NN
Nick Nahlous
1 year ago

Very humorous.

Simon Blanchard
Simon Blanchard
1 year ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

What did you say?

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

A man from Co Durham “casts a shadow in the darkest cellar”, I’m afraid.

D Glover
D Glover
1 year ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

Moderation here is strange. I think your comment is taken down if somebody flags it, but may be re-instated if a moderator looks at it and deems it acceptable.
I recently had one of my comments disappear, and then reappear, without explanation.

Nik Jewell
Nik Jewell
1 year ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

I have been through this recently, and there is a difference between flagged for moderation and disappearing immediately. Write to customer support and ask them to check their spam box. That was where my comment was found (eventually).

Nick Nahlous
Nick Nahlous
1 year ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

…………

Last edited 1 year ago by Nick Nahlous
Steve Murray
LL
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

Might a Buddhist approach help?

Andrew McDonald
Andrew McDonald
1 year ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

Ah, the sound of one hand commenting!

Simon Blanchard
Simon Blanchard
1 year ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

What did you say?

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

A man from Co Durham “casts a shadow in the darkest cellar”, I’m afraid.

D Glover
D Glover
1 year ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

Moderation here is strange. I think your comment is taken down if somebody flags it, but may be re-instated if a moderator looks at it and deems it acceptable.
I recently had one of my comments disappear, and then reappear, without explanation.

Nik Jewell
Nik Jewell
1 year ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

I have been through this recently, and there is a difference between flagged for moderation and disappearing immediately. Write to customer support and ask them to check their spam box. That was where my comment was found (eventually).

Nick Nahlous
NN
Nick Nahlous
1 year ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

…………

Last edited 1 year ago by Nick Nahlous
David Lindsay
DL
David Lindsay
1 year ago

On this, on Margaret Thatcher, and on the Wagner Group, my comments have been taken down, in this case within seconds of having been posted. I pay for this.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago

“Christians commemorated the death of Jesus on a Roman instrument of terror.”

O do come off it Revd Fraser! It was an instrument of execution not terror, and not even a Roman invention at that!

Secondly Christ got off with a ‘soft’ Friday afternoon crucifixion, a mere three hours of ‘writhing in agony’ rather the normal three to four days.

Frankly Pontius Pilate was too Woke by half!

Terry M
TM
Terry M
1 year ago

Of course, the Biblical account is largely nonsense with the guy helping to carry the cross, sponges of vinegar, and a convenient tomb awaiting Jesus’ body.
Most likely he died like most others who were crucified, with his body hanging on the cross for a week or more until the buzzards and dogs ate what they could.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  Terry M

Which was normally quite a lot, as ‘they’ were crucified well within reach of hungry, passing carnivores.
Tall crosses are an artistic fiction.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CS
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  Terry M

Which was normally quite a lot, as ‘they’ were crucified well within reach of hungry, passing carnivores.
Tall crosses are an artistic fiction.

Terry M
Terry M
1 year ago

Of course, the Biblical account is largely nonsense with the guy helping to carry the cross, sponges of vinegar, and a convenient tomb awaiting Jesus’ body.
Most likely he died like most others who were crucified, with his body hanging on the cross for a week or more until the buzzards and dogs ate what they could.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago

“Christians commemorated the death of Jesus on a Roman instrument of terror.”

O do come off it Revd Fraser! It was an instrument of execution not terror, and not even a Roman invention at that!

Secondly Christ got off with a ‘soft’ Friday afternoon crucifixion, a mere three hours of ‘writhing in agony’ rather the normal three to four days.

Frankly Pontius Pilate was too Woke by half!

Peter Kwasi-Modo
Peter Kwasi-Modo
1 year ago

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels had views on migration similar to those of the Dalai Lama. They also said (in the Communist Manifesto) that immigrants should return to their own home countries.

Peter Kwasi-Modo
Peter Kwasi-Modo
1 year ago

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels had views on migration similar to those of the Dalai Lama. They also said (in the Communist Manifesto) that immigrants should return to their own home countries.

Peter Kwasi-Modo
Peter Kwasi-Modo
1 year ago

Giles says “the only possible way for religious institutions to survive is to have an extremely well-developed sense of self-critical vigilance”. Islam is doing pretty well, but I have not noticed any “self-critical vigilance”. Quite the opposite. They very sensibly follow Caligula: Oderint dum metuant (“”Let them hate, so long as they fear”). That serves them much better than “self-critical vigilance”.
Thanks for this piece, Giles. You have hit the nail on the head with your description of “spiritual fluff” for Western Buddhists. That describes exactly all of the Western Buddhists that I have known.

Last edited 1 year ago by Peter Kwasi-Modo
Peter Kwasi-Modo
Peter Kwasi-Modo
1 year ago

Giles says “the only possible way for religious institutions to survive is to have an extremely well-developed sense of self-critical vigilance”. Islam is doing pretty well, but I have not noticed any “self-critical vigilance”. Quite the opposite. They very sensibly follow Caligula: Oderint dum metuant (“”Let them hate, so long as they fear”). That serves them much better than “self-critical vigilance”.
Thanks for this piece, Giles. You have hit the nail on the head with your description of “spiritual fluff” for Western Buddhists. That describes exactly all of the Western Buddhists that I have known.

Last edited 1 year ago by Peter Kwasi-Modo
David Lindsay
David Lindsay
1 year ago

Before 1959, Tibet was not an independent state ruled benignly by the Dalai Lama and given over almost entirely to the pursuit of spirituality. But Tibet was certainly ruled by the Dalai Lama, by the lamas generally, and by the feudal landlord class from which the lamas were drawn. “Dalai” is a family name; only a member of the House of Dalai can become the Dalai Lama.

Well over 90 per cent of the population was made up of serfs, the background from which the present rulers of Tibet are drawn. That system was unique in China, and existed only because successive Emperors of China had granted the Tibetan ruling clique exactly the “autonomy” for which it still campaigns from “exile”. Life expectancy in Tibet was half what it is today.

There has never been an independent state of Tibet. Likewise, there is nothing remotely new about the presence in Tibet of large numbers of Han, who are ethnic Chinese in the ordinary sense, and of other Chinese ethnic groups. The one-child policy never applied in Tibet, so the Han majority there is the ethnic Tibetans’ own fault, if they even see it as a problem. It is totally false to describe the Dalai Lama baldly as “their spiritual leader”. Relatively few would view him as such. In particular, Google “Dorje Shugden” for, to put at its mildest, some balance to the media portrayal of the present Dalai Lama. Or read what remains the greatest hit of The Lanchester Review.

The Buryats, with the Chechens noted as exceptionally cruel Russian fighters in Ukraine, are followers of the Dalai Lama. Moreover, he has never condemned either the invasion of Afghanistan or the invasion of Iraq. For more on Buddhism as no more a religion of peace than Islam is (no less so, but no more), then see Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Mongolia, Japan, Thailand, and beyond. In fact, an examination of the relevant texts shows that violence in general and war in particular are fundamental to Buddhism. Tibet is particularly striking for this. A rare balanced treatment of Buddhism and violence was broadcast in August 2013. The subject is also addressed in great detail here.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

That was worth waiting for, thank you.

David Lindsay
David Lindsay
1 year ago

You are very kind.

David Lindsay
David Lindsay
1 year ago

You are very kind.

Ian Wray
Ian Wray
1 year ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

Your comment parallels Chinese Communist Party propaganda. For people who wish to develop an accurate understanding of Tibet, and the Chinese Communist invasion of it, with their brutal treatment of the Tibetans. I recommend ‘Fire under the Snow – Testimony of a Tibetan Prisoner’ by Palden Gyatso. Amongst many other appalling things, Palden Gyatso describes the “study sessions” which Tibetans were forced to attend, in which they were forcibly subjected to the very propaganda about Tibetan society that is repeated in your comment.There are also ‘Eat the Buddha’ by Barbara Demick, and ‘Escape from Tibet’ by Nick Gray.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
1 year ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

Thank.you for precis of CCP propaganda on the subject. Utter nonsense

David Lindsay
David Lindsay
1 year ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

Refute it point by point, then.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
1 year ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

That would be easy but time consuming. A read of the articles on Wiki would cover it. And you do not deny that you promote the occupy8ng powers line

David Lindsay
DL
David Lindsay
1 year ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

Wiki? Well, there we are.

David Lindsay
David Lindsay
1 year ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

Wiki? Well, there we are.

JR Stoker
JS
JR Stoker
1 year ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

That would be easy but time consuming. A read of the articles on Wiki would cover it. And you do not deny that you promote the occupy8ng powers line

B Emery
B Emery
1 year ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

This is hard to make out for someone who knows little about this, I have up ticked it though because it’s a different perspective, apparently a ccp perspective, but still, different. It would help the ignorant here if you say which parts are nonsense.

David Lindsay
DL
David Lindsay
1 year ago
Reply to  B Emery

It is not a CCP perspective at all. For example, as conventionally portrayed, you cannot support both Tibet and Taiwan. Ask them in Taipei, and they will tell you that they are the Republic of China, of which Tibet is an integral part.

B Emery
B Emery
1 year ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

Well I’m afraid your post on the russia article is a bit dubious, I won’t take you too seriously if that’s OK.
I have been accused of pushing ccp stuff myself, it’s all very exciting, maybe you could give us some more sources for your info?

B Emery
BE
B Emery
1 year ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

Well I’m afraid your post on the russia article is a bit dubious, I won’t take you too seriously if that’s OK.
I have been accused of pushing ccp stuff myself, it’s all very exciting, maybe you could give us some more sources for your info?

David Lindsay
David Lindsay
1 year ago
Reply to  B Emery

It is not a CCP perspective at all. For example, as conventionally portrayed, you cannot support both Tibet and Taiwan. Ask them in Taipei, and they will tell you that they are the Republic of China, of which Tibet is an integral part.

David Lindsay
David Lindsay
1 year ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

Refute it point by point, then.

B Emery
BE
B Emery
1 year ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

This is hard to make out for someone who knows little about this, I have up ticked it though because it’s a different perspective, apparently a ccp perspective, but still, different. It would help the ignorant here if you say which parts are nonsense.

Richard Craven
RC
Richard Craven
1 year ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

Are you the political blogger David Lindsay who was jailed for harassment?
https://www.thenorthernecho.co.uk/news/19262308.blogger-jailed-repeated-online-harassment/

Nick Nahlous
NN
Nick Nahlous
1 year ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

……………

Last edited 1 year ago by Nick Nahlous
Mel Shaw
Mel Shaw
1 year ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

Perhaps you could provide details of the ‘relevant texts’ that show violence and war are fundamental to Buddhism. Also, what should we learn from googling Dorje Shugden?

CHARLES STANHOPE
CS
CHARLES STANHOPE
1 year ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

That was worth waiting for, thank you.

Ian Wray
IW
Ian Wray
1 year ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

Your comment parallels Chinese Communist Party propaganda. For people who wish to develop an accurate understanding of Tibet, and the Chinese Communist invasion of it, with their brutal treatment of the Tibetans. I recommend ‘Fire under the Snow – Testimony of a Tibetan Prisoner’ by Palden Gyatso. Amongst many other appalling things, Palden Gyatso describes the “study sessions” which Tibetans were forced to attend, in which they were forcibly subjected to the very propaganda about Tibetan society that is repeated in your comment.There are also ‘Eat the Buddha’ by Barbara Demick, and ‘Escape from Tibet’ by Nick Gray.

JR Stoker
JS
JR Stoker
1 year ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

Thank.you for precis of CCP propaganda on the subject. Utter nonsense

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
1 year ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

Are you the political blogger David Lindsay who was jailed for harassment?
https://www.thenorthernecho.co.uk/news/19262308.blogger-jailed-repeated-online-harassment/

Nick Nahlous
NN
Nick Nahlous
1 year ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

……………

Last edited 1 year ago by Nick Nahlous
Mel Shaw
Mel Shaw
1 year ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

Perhaps you could provide details of the ‘relevant texts’ that show violence and war are fundamental to Buddhism. Also, what should we learn from googling Dorje Shugden?

David Lindsay
DL
David Lindsay
1 year ago

Before 1959, Tibet was not an independent state ruled benignly by the Dalai Lama and given over almost entirely to the pursuit of spirituality. But Tibet was certainly ruled by the Dalai Lama, by the lamas generally, and by the feudal landlord class from which the lamas were drawn. “Dalai” is a family name; only a member of the House of Dalai can become the Dalai Lama.

Well over 90 per cent of the population was made up of serfs, the background from which the present rulers of Tibet are drawn. That system was unique in China, and existed only because successive Emperors of China had granted the Tibetan ruling clique exactly the “autonomy” for which it still campaigns from “exile”. Life expectancy in Tibet was half what it is today.

There has never been an independent state of Tibet. Likewise, there is nothing remotely new about the presence in Tibet of large numbers of Han, who are ethnic Chinese in the ordinary sense, and of other Chinese ethnic groups. The one-child policy never applied in Tibet, so the Han majority there is the ethnic Tibetans’ own fault, if they even see it as a problem. It is totally false to describe the Dalai Lama baldly as “their spiritual leader”. Relatively few would view him as such. In particular, Google “Dorje Shugden” for, to put at its mildest, some balance to the media portrayal of the present Dalai Lama. Or read what remains the greatest hit of The Lanchester Review.

The Buryats, with the Chechens noted as exceptionally cruel Russian fighters in Ukraine, are followers of the Dalai Lama. Moreover, he has never condemned either the invasion of Afghanistan or the invasion of Iraq. For more on Buddhism as no more a religion of peace than Islam is (no less so, but no more), then see Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Mongolia, Japan, Thailand, and beyond. In fact, an examination of the relevant texts shows that violence in general and war in particular are fundamental to Buddhism. Tibet is particularly striking for this. A rare balanced treatment of Buddhism and violence was broadcast in August 2013. The subject is also addressed in great detail here.

Ian Wray
IW
Ian Wray
1 year ago

A very poor article, and the author shows no understanding of what Buddhism, as spiritual doctrine and practice, actually is. He also makes sweeping generalisations about Buddhism in the West, that display very poor knowledge of what he is writing about.

Alex Stonor
AS
Alex Stonor
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian Wray

Buddhism prioritises male priests & practitioners and cannot therefore be differentiated from any other world religion.

Hilary Easton
Hilary Easton
1 year ago
Reply to  Alex Stonor

It certainly has, traditionally, but that is rapidly changing in all Buddhist strains that have contact with the West.

Jeff Cunningham
JC
Jeff Cunningham
1 year ago
Reply to  Alex Stonor

While touring a large Buddhist ministry near Hanoi we noticed at least half a dozen females among the five hundred or so life-sized marble statues of former monastery leaders. The collection went back at least a thousand years. How many female Popes have there been?

Hilary Easton
HE
Hilary Easton
1 year ago
Reply to  Alex Stonor

It certainly has, traditionally, but that is rapidly changing in all Buddhist strains that have contact with the West.

Jeff Cunningham
JC
Jeff Cunningham
1 year ago
Reply to  Alex Stonor

While touring a large Buddhist ministry near Hanoi we noticed at least half a dozen females among the five hundred or so life-sized marble statues of former monastery leaders. The collection went back at least a thousand years. How many female Popes have there been?

Nick Nahlous
Nick Nahlous
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian Wray

…..

Last edited 1 year ago by Nick Nahlous
Alex Stonor
Alex Stonor
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian Wray

Buddhism prioritises male priests & practitioners and cannot therefore be differentiated from any other world religion.

Nick Nahlous
Nick Nahlous
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian Wray

…..

Last edited 1 year ago by Nick Nahlous
Ian Wray
Ian Wray
1 year ago

A very poor article, and the author shows no understanding of what Buddhism, as spiritual doctrine and practice, actually is. He also makes sweeping generalisations about Buddhism in the West, that display very poor knowledge of what he is writing about.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
1 year ago

“Likewise, when violent Buddhist nationalists attack Tamil Hindus in Sri Lanka or the Muslim Rohingya in Myanmar, the association between Buddhism and peace and harmony is rarely dented.”
Not to mention the sadistic tortures inflicted by Japanese Shinto Buddhists on British POW’s.

Nick Nahlous
NN
Nick Nahlous
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard Craven

………..

Last edited 1 year ago by Nick Nahlous
Niall Cusack
NC
Niall Cusack
10 months ago
Reply to  Richard Craven

There is no such thing as a Shinto Buddhist. It’s like claiming to be a Protestant Catholic or a Catholic Protestant in Belfast. See how far that gets you!
But at least those are varieties (albeit incompatible) of the same religion – Christianity. Shinto and Buddhism are utterly different religions.

Nick Nahlous
NN
Nick Nahlous
1 year ago
Reply to  Richard Craven

………..

Last edited 1 year ago by Nick Nahlous
Niall Cusack
Niall Cusack
10 months ago
Reply to  Richard Craven

There is no such thing as a Shinto Buddhist. It’s like claiming to be a Protestant Catholic or a Catholic Protestant in Belfast. See how far that gets you!
But at least those are varieties (albeit incompatible) of the same religion – Christianity. Shinto and Buddhism are utterly different religions.

Richard Craven
RC
Richard Craven
1 year ago

“Likewise, when violent Buddhist nationalists attack Tamil Hindus in Sri Lanka or the Muslim Rohingya in Myanmar, the association between Buddhism and peace and harmony is rarely dented.”
Not to mention the sadistic tortures inflicted by Japanese Shinto Buddhists on British POW’s.

Augustus Longestaffe
Augustus Longestaffe
1 year ago

This 87-year-old monk … has been recognised as the reincarnation of one of the Buddhas since he was two.

There’s no reason to expect that anyone located at such an age, by means of divination, will turn out to have the makings of a moral leader. There’s no assurance that he will even prove moderately intelligent.
Having read one of the current Dalai Lama’s books and listened to the way he answers interviewers, I concluded long ago that it’s all he can do to operate on the level of platitudes.
The question is whether this makes him an ironic choice of religious figure for secular intellectuals to patronize, or not.

Augustus Longestaffe
AL
Augustus Longestaffe
1 year ago

This 87-year-old monk … has been recognised as the reincarnation of one of the Buddhas since he was two.

There’s no reason to expect that anyone located at such an age, by means of divination, will turn out to have the makings of a moral leader. There’s no assurance that he will even prove moderately intelligent.
Having read one of the current Dalai Lama’s books and listened to the way he answers interviewers, I concluded long ago that it’s all he can do to operate on the level of platitudes.
The question is whether this makes him an ironic choice of religious figure for secular intellectuals to patronize, or not.

Russell Sharpe
RS
Russell Sharpe
1 year ago

I have seen it claimed that saying ¨eat my tongue¨ and then poking it out is a common lighthearted response among Tibetans to a child who is being too demanding, the implication being that the child has already been over-indulged. I have no Tibetan at all, but this strikes me as a much more likely explanation that that the 87-year-old Dalai Lama decided suddenly to reveal himself as a paedophile by attempting to seduce a child with all the cameras rolling.

Last edited 1 year ago by Russell Sharpe
Russell Sharpe
Russell Sharpe
1 year ago

I have seen it claimed that saying ¨eat my tongue¨ and then poking it out is a common lighthearted response among Tibetans to a child who is being too demanding, the implication being that the child has already been over-indulged. I have no Tibetan at all, but this strikes me as a much more likely explanation that that the 87-year-old Dalai Lama decided suddenly to reveal himself as a paedophile by attempting to seduce a child with all the cameras rolling.

Last edited 1 year ago by Russell Sharpe
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
1 year ago

It is ill-befitting of any Minister of the CoE to lecture anyone on failure

Last edited 1 year ago by Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
ER
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
1 year ago

It is ill-befitting of any Minister of the CoE to lecture anyone on failure

Last edited 1 year ago by Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Paul K
PK
Paul K
1 year ago

‘Spirituality is religion that has been mugged by capitalism.’
That is an excellent line, and true.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul K

No it’s not, it’s patent nonsense. Spirituality is as old as humanity, before anything which might resemble a religion developed once human societies started to form. Capitalism came along some time later.

james goater
JG
james goater
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

That is an excellent rejoinder to Paul K, and true!

james goater
JG
james goater
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

That is an excellent rejoinder to Paul K, and true!

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  Paul K

No it’s not, it’s patent nonsense. Spirituality is as old as humanity, before anything which might resemble a religion developed once human societies started to form. Capitalism came along some time later.

Paul K
PK
Paul K
1 year ago

‘Spirituality is religion that has been mugged by capitalism.’
That is an excellent line, and true.

Nathan Sapio
NS
Nathan Sapio
1 year ago

What a vital article, especially with a throwaway line that’s actually a knock-out, eye-opening concept: “It helps if our religions do not have a morally upstanding history, because it takes a leap of faith to believe in them.” …hmm seems trite as a quote, but in the article it’s an illustration of how human frailty really serves teleological ends…

Nathan Sapio
Nathan Sapio
1 year ago

What a vital article, especially with a throwaway line that’s actually a knock-out, eye-opening concept: “It helps if our religions do not have a morally upstanding history, because it takes a leap of faith to believe in them.” …hmm seems trite as a quote, but in the article it’s an illustration of how human frailty really serves teleological ends…

Kirk Susong
KS
Kirk Susong
1 year ago

“Why does Buddhism get off so lightly?”
Because Buddhism – at least as practiced in the West – makes few demands on the sexual lives of its adherents. It is because the Abrahamic faiths continue to require orthodox sexual practices from their adherents that they have become untenable and unacceptable in polite company.

Kirk Susong
KS
Kirk Susong
1 year ago

“Why does Buddhism get off so lightly?”
Because Buddhism – at least as practiced in the West – makes few demands on the sexual lives of its adherents. It is because the Abrahamic faiths continue to require orthodox sexual practices from their adherents that they have become untenable and unacceptable in polite company.

Ian Wray
IW
Ian Wray
11 months ago

I have just watched a video by a Tibetan explaining the cultural context of the Dalai Lama’s behaviour, which shows that this is nothing to do with sexual abuse. The video can be found on YouTube. It is by ‘Jigme’, and is entitled ‘Stop Sensationalising the Dalai Lama’s Innocent Interactions’.

I do wonder whether the highly edited version of the video of the Dalai Lama’s interaction with the child is actually a deliberate attempt to defame him.

Ian Wray
IW
Ian Wray
11 months ago

I have just watched a video by a Tibetan explaining the cultural context of the Dalai Lama’s behaviour, which shows that this is nothing to do with sexual abuse. The video can be found on YouTube. It is by ‘Jigme’, and is entitled ‘Stop Sensationalising the Dalai Lama’s Innocent Interactions’.

I do wonder whether the highly edited version of the video of the Dalai Lama’s interaction with the child is actually a deliberate attempt to defame him.

Simon Neale
SN
Simon Neale
1 year ago

Of course, Christianity experienced its own corporate capture by the Roman empire centuries ago.

And Christians do exactly the same as Buddhists, don’t they? They pick the best bits, and try to distance themselves from all the bits that are nasty, incomprehensible to them, or of less use in maintaining an image of the type of person they want to be thought of.

Simon Neale
SN
Simon Neale
1 year ago

Of course, Christianity experienced its own corporate capture by the Roman empire centuries ago.

And Christians do exactly the same as Buddhists, don’t they? They pick the best bits, and try to distance themselves from all the bits that are nasty, incomprehensible to them, or of less use in maintaining an image of the type of person they want to be thought of.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
NS
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

Why not try and convert all those orange presbyterians in Ulster to buddhism? Right colour robes? Maybe Dunn and Co make cheap £5 orange bowler hats too?

Richard Abbot
Richard Abbot
1 year ago

Many thanks for a near-perfect exposition of much that is wrong with modern day ‘spirituality,’ a movement I am far too familiar with, which wants all the peace with none of the work.

William Miller
WM
William Miller
1 year ago

Fair question.

Mark V
Mark V
10 months ago

The big idea of Buddhism is Pratītyasamutpāda

Walter Sarries
Walter Sarries
1 year ago

Musings apart, he sexually abused a child in public. How come his holy ass is not in jail?

Walter Sarries
Walter Sarries
1 year ago

Musings apart, he sexually abused a child in public. How come his holy ass is not in jail?

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
1 year ago

“He was “misguided” rather than “sleazy”, as one columnist in The Times put it.”
I think he’s a paedo gaylord.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
1 year ago

“He was “misguided” rather than “sleazy”, as one columnist in The Times put it.”
I think he’s a paedo gaylord.

Euphrosinia Romanoff
ER
Euphrosinia Romanoff
1 year ago

I found the article enleightening.
I just wonder, how the author, who published an article on the momentous date of the Russian invasion https://staging.unherd.com/2022/02/putins-spiritual-destiny/ feels about its subject matter now, after almost 14 months of bloodshed, devastation and atrocities perpetrated by the Russians – with a blessing of their corrupted church.

Euphrosinia Romanoff
Euphrosinia Romanoff
1 year ago

I found the article enleightening.
I just wonder, how the author, who published an article on the momentous date of the Russian invasion https://staging.unherd.com/2022/02/putins-spiritual-destiny/ feels about its subject matter now, after almost 14 months of bloodshed, devastation and atrocities perpetrated by the Russians – with a blessing of their corrupted church.

Iris Violet
IV
Iris Violet
1 year ago

All very interesting but why is this child abuser not in jail. Is this really just going to go away?

Last edited 1 year ago by Iris Violet
Iris Violet
Iris Violet
1 year ago

All very interesting but why is this child abuser not in jail. Is this really just going to go away?

Last edited 1 year ago by Iris Violet
Richard Craven
RC
Richard Craven
1 year ago

“The Buddha found nirvana after many years of praying, meditating and fasting”
Judging by his statuary he was evidently quite a fat fastard.

Richard Craven
RC
Richard Craven
1 year ago

“The Buddha found nirvana after many years of praying, meditating and fasting”
Judging by his statuary he was evidently quite a fat fastard.