Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Buddhism, Sexism and Religious Intolerance

Many Americans who fancy themselves Buddhists live under some dangerous misconceptions about Buddhist belief and history. Most of these misconceptions derive from their political leanings (mostly extremely liberal) and wishful thinking.

One of those misconceptions is that the history of Buddhism is lacking in violence.

China's Xinhua News (read: propaganda) agency is reporting that Dalai Lama loyalists tore down statues of Dorje Shugden, and of course blames the Dalai Lama for inciting the act. I highly doubt that the Dalai Lama ordered or encouraged this act, but I don't doubt that the folks who did this did it out of a sense of loyalty to him.

The earliest Buddhists in India would enter Hindu temples and destroy images of Shiva. Even these days, a bunch of Cambodian Buddhists can be build up a head of steam and burn down a Christian church.

So as an American Buddhist, I implore all my fellow American Buddhists to stop insisting that violence and Buddhism have never mixed. They shouldn't mix, but they have, and still do. Pretending that knowing that somebody's a Buddhist means also knowing that they are a peaceful person makes as much sense as pretending that knowing somebody's a Christian means also knowing that they won't sell you a lemon for a used car.

Denying the truth does not lead to spiritual attainment.

Another misconception many American Buddhists have is that Buddhism is not compatible with sexism. Mettanando Bhikkhu has an excellent essay that posits the sexism of the early Buddhists as the prime reason that it died out in its native India.

Till now, I always thought that the rigidity of the early Buddhists and their desire to differentiate themselves from Hindus lost out against Hinduism's ability to take any idea, even an idea seemingly antithetical to Hinduism, and incorporate it seamlessly into itself. Whereas later Buddhism, as it spread into other cultures, syncretized with the native practices and philosophies, and consequently endured.

Which brings us full circle to the issue between the Dalai Lama and worship of Dorje Shugden. If H.H. wants Tibetan Buddhism to endure, he will have to allow different sects to adopt practices as they see fit.



Update: Welcome, readers of Blogmandu! Tor's Rants is a multi-topic blog, of which Buddhism is just one strand. You may use the FreshTags navigation in the left column to find my recent posts on Buddhism, or click on the word "Buddhism" next to the checker below to find a comprehensive list of my posts. Of course, I hope you'll look around a bit at my other rantings...they are, after all, through a Buddhist's perspective.

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