Author Topic: Cultural Appropriation in Western Buddhism  (Read 472 times)

Offline Chaz

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Cultural Appropriation in Western Buddhism
« on: November 05, 2019, 05:18:49 pm »
I've been pondering the idea of Cultural Appropriation as it may relate to western Buddhism.

For purposes of dicussion let's say the Cultural Appropriation (CA) is "the adoption of elements of one culture by members of another culture".

Various cultures have been appropriating elemanets of other cultures for centuries, at least.  Christmas is an excellent example.

In western Buddhism we see a lot of CA.  This involves material culture as well as linguistic.  Linguistic appropriations are with termanology.  Much of our essential terminology is in either Sanscrit or Pali.  Most of those terms can be translated into English words of phrases, for instance, but we continue using Sanscrit and Pali, probably because is sounds cool and adds a certain mystique (as well as some pretension).  In the material realm we use foriegn artistic motifs and themes as well material artefact.

I don't think that there's anything really wrong with cultural appropriation, but I also think it present obstacles to the path.

For example, Theravadins use the word Dhamma and Mahayanists use Dharma.  Both words mean the same thing, so why insist on difference?  In addition, we can translate that into "Teachings of The Buddha" so rather than matain this, dare I say, silly, difference, why not just call it that?  Or something else.

Perhaps we should use handouts that act as a glossary of terms and explanation of our religious proclivity?

Thoughts?

Offline stillpointdancer

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Re: Cultural Appropriation in Western Buddhism
« Reply #1 on: November 06, 2019, 03:45:25 am »
I used to attend a local Triratna Buddhist centre, probably for around fifteen years or so. Much of that time was spent exploring such terms and developing a shared understanding of what they meant. Of course, with a high turnover this meant that there were always lots of people who didn't share such an understanding, leaving plenty of room for misunderstanding.
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Offline stevie

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Re: Cultural Appropriation in Western Buddhism
« Reply #2 on: November 06, 2019, 04:03:51 am »
I don't mind these Sanscrit or Pali terms. Often these have a broader meaning and the English translation doesn't appear appropriate to me. E.g. it seems to be generally accepted to translate 'dukkha' with 'suffering' but from my perspective 'suffering' is only a particular type of 'dukkha'. So I would prefer 'dukkha'.

 :anjali:

Offline Dharma Flower

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Re: Cultural Appropriation in Western Buddhism
« Reply #3 on: November 07, 2019, 08:55:37 pm »
I believe that cultural appropriation is borrowing elements of another culture in an ignorant or unappreciative way.

Offline Chaz

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Re: Cultural Appropriation in Western Buddhism
« Reply #4 on: November 10, 2019, 06:13:41 am »
I don't mind these Sanscrit or Pali terms. Often these have a broader meaning and the English translation doesn't appear appropriate to me. E.g. it seems to be generally accepted to translate 'dukkha' with 'suffering' but from my perspective 'suffering' is only a particular type of 'dukkha'. So I would prefer 'dukkha'.

 :anjali:

Truth be told, I don't mind, either, but oftentime, if I use a term in a language like Pali, Sanskrit, or Tibetan, with a non-Buddhist, I end up having to translate that term into our common language.  I get the sense that in using the source language, I'm being a bit pretentious and perhaps even rude.  I'm no paragon of virtue, but wouldn't that fall outside the context of Right Speech?   If I have to translate to common language for the sake on conversation with non-Buddhists,  why not use that translation all the time?

Wearing a mala around the neck or wrist like jewelry is another.  The mala is a measuring device.  Would someone use a tape measure as a fashion statement?  They might, but would this be something praise by the wise?

Leagally changing to your refuge name.  People do it.  They must hate their mothers, who named them in the first place.

I could go on ....

Offline Gibbon

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Re: Cultural Appropriation in Western Buddhism
« Reply #5 on: November 13, 2019, 02:43:03 pm »

Truth be told, I don't mind, either, but oftentime, if I use a term in a language like Pali, Sanskrit, or Tibetan, with a non-Buddhist, I end up having to translate that term into our common language.  I get the sense that in using the source language, I'm being a bit pretentious and perhaps even rude.  I'm no paragon of virtue, but wouldn't that fall outside the context of Right Speech?   If I have to translate to common language for the sake on conversation with non-Buddhists,  why not use that translation all the time?

Wearing a mala around the neck or wrist like jewelry is another.  The mala is a measuring device.  Would someone use a tape measure as a fashion statement?  They might, but would this be something praise by the wise?

Leagally changing to your refuge name.  People do it.  They must hate their mothers, who named them in the first place.

I could go on ....

These are examples of spiritual materialism, isn't that so? 

Offline Chaz

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Re: Cultural Appropriation in Western Buddhism
« Reply #6 on: November 13, 2019, 05:41:33 pm »

Truth be told, I don't mind, either, but oftentime, if I use a term in a language like Pali, Sanskrit, or Tibetan, with a non-Buddhist, I end up having to translate that term into our common language.  I get the sense that in using the source language, I'm being a bit pretentious and perhaps even rude.  I'm no paragon of virtue, but wouldn't that fall outside the context of Right Speech?   If I have to translate to common language for the sake on conversation with non-Buddhists,  why not use that translation all the time?

Wearing a mala around the neck or wrist like jewelry is another.  The mala is a measuring device.  Would someone use a tape measure as a fashion statement?  They might, but would this be something praise by the wise?

Leagally changing to your refuge name.  People do it.  They must hate their mothers, who named them in the first place.

I could go on ....

These are examples of spiritual materialism, isn't that so?

Yes, it can be viewed that way, but when your born and raised in MN by WASP pqarents, it's also cultural appropriation.  ;-)

Offline Gibbon

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Re: Cultural Appropriation in Western Buddhism
« Reply #7 on: November 14, 2019, 08:35:51 am »

Yes, it can be viewed that way, but when your born and raised in MN by WASP parents, it's also cultural appropriation.  ;-)

So what, this guy was probably Mongolian or something in his past life, so he is appropriating from himself!  And what about Trungpa Rinpoche with all his Western clothing and lifestyle?
« Last Edit: November 14, 2019, 08:40:46 am by Gibbon »

Offline Chaz

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Re: Cultural Appropriation in Western Buddhism
« Reply #8 on: November 14, 2019, 05:40:27 pm »

Yes, it can be viewed that way, but when your born and raised in MN by WASP parents, it's also cultural appropriation.  ;-)

what about Trungpa Rinpoche with all his Western clothing and lifestyle?

I think that's called fitting in.  CTR made a conscious effort to relate to his students in a non-materialistic way.  They expected some guy in maroon robes.  He have them jeans and a t-shirt.  Later he sported a suit and tie.

Offline Gibbon

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Re: Cultural Appropriation in Western Buddhism
« Reply #9 on: Today at 10:55:42 am »
So Trungpa Rinpoche's actions proceeded not from a deluded, but from an enlightened mind.  This is hardly the case with most of us. 

I think a more useful framing of this question is: are my actions motivated by the Dharma or by delusion?  Do they increase delusion or decrease it?  The Dharma is not any specific culture.

If I dress up in Tibetan clothes, I personally feel like a showoff.  If I keep waving a fancy mala around, I am only boosting my ego (as well as possibly breaking commitments).  If I throw obscure terms like "dukkha" at uninformed audiences, I am just trying to impress. 

Today's obsession with identities and ensuing guilt trips increases delusion 1000%.  I think it is important to look past the mind seizure of the moment to the absolute -- to see, as you will, sub specie aeternitatis. 

What would Trungpa Rinpoche say in reply to your question?

 


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