Saturday, October 2, 2010

Dharma Wars: When Tibetans argue and White people cry "Victim!"

Recently, there has been a bit of a crisis within the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism. The location of the crisis is New York, and so it does effect the Western Buddhist sangha.

I won't go too deeply into the crisis, but according to popular belief (which may or may not be the actual cause) A Tibetan from aristocratic background and lifestyle got upset about his lawn not being mowed and fired a non-Tibetan manager. A Tibetan lama then resigned from his position at the monastery, one thing led to another and that lama was effectively banned from teaching at that monastery or any of its affiliated centers. A lot of people believe that the aristocrat's anger over the lawn mowing incident led to the banning of this Lama. This may be partially true, I don't know. But that is the general belief.

**IMPORTANT NOTE: After speaking with several people it came to light that, although the so-called "Lawnmower Incident" may have been a contributing factor, there were also theological reasons behind the decision at hand. I won't elaborate on them here since I don't know all the details, but trust me in saying that it's far more complex than most people will lead you to believe**

The response by many western people, including at least one popular and widely read Buddhist blogger have been accusing Tibetans of abusing the western Buddhist sangha. One particularly memorable quote read:

"thanks to the failure of Tibetans to accept Americans as their equals. It is as simple as that. We are peasants to them."

The first thing that struck me as odd was, aside from the initial manager who no one is talking about, the victim in this case is a TIBETAN Lama, and his aggressor is a FELLOW TIBETAN. In short, this is infighting. With "In" being a key component of that word. How is it that when the victim is a Tibetan, westerners are complaining about being the ones abused?

This is also, clearly, an unfair generalization of 6 million people based on the inappropriate actions of a few. It is a clear example of a minority figure's action representing the entire minority while a white person's action represents the individual.

Many are pinning this as a racist issue (Tibetans versus Americans) as compared to the class structure issue that it actually is. Does anyone really think it would be any different if it were a Tibetan who had not mown the lawn? For that matter, westerners in positions of respect who perceive disrespect tend to respond in the same way, yet we wouldn't generalize all westerners in such a manner. (I'm inclined to remember my private school headmistress who summarily fired or refused to renew contracts of teachers who disagreed with her... )

How is this that when one aristocratic family acts poorly and we can generalize all Tibetans, and yet when westerners in positions of power (school, religious authority, etc...) do the exact same thing, it is the act of the individual?

I chose to respond to the blogger, hoping that other readers would see this. I received one positive response, a blogger who wrote that the original writer should have been more careful with his words. But the original writer also responded.

"It can only be resolved by Tibetans, from the top down, the intervention of His Holiness himself leading his Tibetan disciples and representatives into the 21st century reality of the Karma Kagyu in this country.

This isn't Tibet.We're Americans. Treat us like KTD is, like a bunch of peasants, banning a beloved teacher for siding with a Western lay person over an Tibetan aristocrat is the straw that broke the camels back."

In one paragraph he states that it is a Tibetan issue, but in the very next one he again turns it into Tibetan vs American. Treating us like peasants, Western lay person versus Tibetan aristocrat.

The many people who are making this argument completely fail to discuss, or even look at, the theological or situational backing behind the decision to ban (very complex on both counts, as I later found out.) Not only are they mistaken about the cause, but they are making the problem worse. Instead of discussing the actual reasons and therefore being able to petition for change, they chose instead to cry "victim" and completely ignore the issues at hand.

I personally am upset about the ban, but I am about 100 times more upset at the idiotic and racist response by so many western Buddhists who have chosen to blame all of Tibetan culture and pretend to be the victims in this situation instead of try to learn the real cause behind the decision and help the Lama in question.

Finally, the congregation of this Buddhist center, although largely westerners also has many Chinese, Taiwanese, and of course, numerous Tibetans. All of them are being effected by this ban. The Tibetans may be effected even more so due to family connections and social pressures to completely shun this lama in accordance with the banning.

So, if this IS the result of the "Lawn Mowing Incident" as it is now being called, then this is a case of aristocrats treating EVERYONE below them like "peasants" as our writer says. Including numerous Tibetans. Yet, as we so commonly see, this writer and the many others feel as though it is us, the poor westerners, who are being so horribly abused by these terrible, horrible, no good, very bad Tibetans.

...and people wonder why I refuse to go to Buddhist centers in the west.

1 comment:

  1. I don't go to Western Buddhist centers any more either. Too many have become some form of competitive Buddhism. One of those you have very ably pointed out.

    The need to prove that somehow "Occidental" attitudes are more refined or progressive or fair or just or enlightened or superior to Other attitudes without even understanding those Other attitudes often demonstrates the detriments of the "Occidental" attitude itself.

    And I use the words Occidental and Other on purpose.


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