Buddhism and Westerners

Out of Sleep considers the positive and negative consequences of Western secularists dabbling with Buddhism.  He thinks it can serve either as a gateway into religion, or a gateway to complete alienation from it.

One thing that irritates me about Western Buddhism dabblers is that they don’t even seem interested in the question of whether Buddhist beliefs are true.  For example, do they really believe in reincarnation.  As OoS also notices, the attitude seems to be much different from that of conforming one’s mind to the truth about the world.

Of course, people still convert to Western religions all the time, and not just in Africa. There are new Catholics, new Evangelicals (especially), and new members of non-mainstream churches, especially Mormons in the USA. Etc.

But I would argue (and I admit I’m getting on some thin rhetorical ice here; I’m really just arguing from a gut feeling) that these kinds of conversions come from a deeper — or at the very least more fervent — conviction than do “conversions” to Buddhism. In fact, it sounds weird to say “converted to Buddhism” though we have no problem saying “converted to Islam” or “converted to the Catholic church.” In my own story which I posted yesterday, I said it (without even thinking) the way most people say it. “I began practicing Buddhism.”

Just like I “began practicing” the violin last year.

Do you see what I mean? It’s a lifestyle choice. Hopefully that feels intrinsically wrong, to choose a religion for lifestyle choice reasons. But why, exactly?


Because it makes a mockery of the most important thing a man can do with his time on earth.

He also has the same opinion I do of the Dalai Lama’s decision to inflict democracy on his people:

Interestingly, I note that the Dalai Lama has spent so much time among his deracinated, empty-souled, atheist Western followers and lionizers, that he has denounced his own tradition. His own lineage goes back 14 generations, and he has taken it upon himself to end the tradition in favor of “democracy.” Apparently the 14 generations of previous Lamas and all the people who lived under them and venerated them don’t get a vote! The Dalai Lama and his Westernized, atomized, rootless new international Buddhism just know better than those hopelessly backward rubes.

8 Responses

  1. I have the same opinion as you on the Dalai Lama because I “borrowed” it from you. I realize now I read about that here first, then went web-searching and found that other link when it came up in the course of writing my more recent post.

  2. This makes sense, as Buddhism (in the West) is explicitly marketed as an atheists religion.

  3. The issue of beliefs in not the core issue of most religions. Christianity is most concerned with beliefs, then Islam. Other religions don’t place belief very high in importance, and I personally agree with the other religions on this. Like Buddhism, Judaism is mostly about what you practice (do).

    The comments on the “Out of Sleep” blog were very insightful. This guy clearly understands Buddhism. Most Westerners who dabble in Buddhism have no understanding of it. I agree that the fact that Buddhism has no laws, as opposed to suggestions, is a problem.

    Buddhism has never produced a highly productive culture. Those religions which have are Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Confucianism. So this is a strike against Buddhism. But on the plus side, today’s Buddhist countries are far less liberal and feminist than today’s Christian countries are. So for this, I think Buddhism deserves respect.

  4. I expect this is my Christian dogmatic prejudice showing. I just can’t get my mind around a nondogmatic religion.

  5. My experience with Theravada Buddhism was similar to Out of Sleep’s. In my own life, I passed from atheism to Buddhism before converting to Catholicism. Buddhism accustomed me to an organized and even hierarchical religion: I venerated golden statues of the Buddha, served food to the monks and allowed them to eat first, etc. However, his comments on its dangers are also accurate, and I’m glad I did not linger long.

  6. >Hopefully that feels intrinsically wrong, to choose a religion for lifestyle choice reasons.

    It is not a religion in the Western sense. It is really weird how you guys in the Orthosphere are really incapable of understanding Eastern thinking. You care so much about what is true, the East cares about what works. The whole point is that truth cannot be described by words just experienced…

    A lifestyle is something superficial. I think life choice or self-improvement would be a better term.

    Imagine that it would be possible to become a saint without faith, without truths, just doing a method similar to body building: repetitive exercises. True or not just do it because it works. If you get this, you get Buddhism and Eastern thinking: it is more than a lifestyle, because you turn into a SAINT and that is not a lifestyle, but not a religion in the sense that it is a set of truths you must believe. It is a set of exercises to do.

  7. I don’t think you are getting the politics behind the Dalai Lama’s embrace of democracy. The next Dalai Lama is selected by the Panchen Lama. The person determined to be the Panchen Lama by the 14th Dalai Lama was “disappeared” by the Chinese government at age 6, whereabouts unknown. The Chinese claim to have the real Panchen Lama.

    If the Dalai Lama does not disavow his next incarnation’s role as ruler, the Chinese will set up their own Dalai Lama for their own purposes. More important to the Dalai Lama than preserving the traditional form of Tibetan government is the preservation of his own people from cultural genocide.

    His actions are intended to cut the Chinese off at the pass, and generate sympathy for his people in India and the West. It is working to some extent.

    Say what you want about Western Buddhists, I think the Tibetan Lamas have found them to be useful idiots at very least, even if they possess little real understanding of Buddhism.

  8. Buddhism has lots of dogmas and lots of different sects (to go with the different dogmas). However, Western Buddhists tend to be air heads looking for a mystical system of the East to project their transcendentalist fantasies on. Most of them spend little time studying Buddhist philosophy or the Sutras, and lack the intellectual abilities to do so if they tried. They mostly like doing yoga and “mellowing out”.

    There simply aren’t enough real Buddhists around in the West to disabuse Westerners of their projections. Moreover, as noted before, they make useful idiots and are often a useful source of money.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: