By Gerald “Strib” Stribling
I’ve written before about what I call The Three Approaches to Religion.
I do not remember who I stole it from, but I believe it breaks things down nicely. The Three Approaches to spiritual fulfillment are these: scholarship, piety and morality, and through good works. Strib’s addendum is, no one approach is superior to any of the others. American Buddhism, however, doesn’t get it.
Piety means going to puja every evening, or lighting a candle in your Buddha shrine and mumbling a quick “Namo tassa…” Morality is how your belief system and culture regulate your behavior. Chasteness and modesty are the norm in most of the Asian Buddhist world, not as strict as in Muslim Asia, but there is common ground. Granted, this is a cultural phenomenon and not based on anything the Buddha said, but he did say to avoid sexual misconduct. That’s all in the eye of the beholder.
What is sexual misconduct?
Much of our culture’s hyper-sexuality—well, if Marshall Mcluen was was right and the medium is the message, comes from television. Sure, there are dirty movies and the internet pornography infection, but we are constantly bombarded with sexuality through television. It’s no wonder that 12 and 13 year olds are sexually active.
I’m not advocating censorship. What I am saying is that America is doomed. Innocence is no longer possible.
Oh, you can find sexualized Buddhism, if you look for it. Personally, I find the two to be mutually exclusive. But I am not making the argument that anything about American Buddhism makes sense. Tantra-based belief constructs allow for all sorts of sexy hanky-panky. But that’s not Buddhism, and people who go for that stuff are more interested in sex than spirituality. Not in my book. I’m more of a Dhammapada kind of guy. The only overt sexuality I saw in six months in Sri Lanka was an old poster at a bus stop advertising the movie Virgins from Hell.
American Buddhism is primarily a white upper-middle class phenomenon—many are social clubs for elitist snobs whose “Buddhism” is really a projection of their collective political liberalism. Tibetan Buddhism is leading this demographic around by the nose, and soaking them for everything they’ve got. Nam-money-money-nam-pay-ola.
What is wrong with Tibetan Buddhism? That’s irrelevant. As I watch a room full of Americans chanting in a language they do not know, to show reverence to monks dead 800 years, and to gods that look like blue marionettes, all I can think about is how abysmally ignorant people can be with regard to what is important in their lives.
Tibetan Buddhism places a heavy emphasis on rebirth. I don’t even believe in rebirth. The Tibetans can put on quite a show, but those shows cost a lot of money (as do the memberships at Tibetan temples). I’ve heard of some of them charging a hundred dollars just to enter into their sacred space.
Buddhism is free. If I want to see religious luminaries parade around in funny hats, I can do that at the Episcopal cathedral.
And the Dalai Lama is not the Pope of Buddhism. He’s not even the Pope of Tibetan Buddhism. I can’t emphasize enough how grateful all Buddhists are for the happy example the Dalai Lama represents to the rest of the world. But guess what? His Holiness isn’t holy at all. And his titular role as leader of the Tibetan community in exile? That’s a secular position.
I do not believe that if I had been exposed first to Mahayana or Vajrayana Buddhism, I would ever become a Buddhist.
I accept nothing at faith. So don’t tell me that the Buddha literally dictated your Sanskrit sutras late in life, because it’s a lie. When Buddhism spread from India to China, the missionaries weren’t selling Buddhism to the rabble, they were selling Buddhism to the society’s elites, government officials and royalty. That’s how some people have made it imperative to be vegetarian to be Buddhist. The sutra that eventually percolated down to the Chinese peasants was written to support the elites’ hoarding of animal protein.
The Buddha ate meat. The Dalai Lama eats meat every other day. Humanitarian rationales for not eating meat is a modern phenomenon. I am not denigrating vegetarianism. I am denigrating the mythological relationship between vegetarianism and Buddhism.
Believe in what you want to believe, and eat what you want to eat. But if it ain’t covered in the dhamma, it ain’t Buddhist.
(to be continued)
Editor: Dana Gornall