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General Buddhism => The Dharma Express => Topic started by: Chaz on November 05, 2019, 05:18:49 pm

Title: Cultural Appropriation in Western Buddhism
Post by: Chaz 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?
Title: Re: Cultural Appropriation in Western Buddhism
Post by: stillpointdancer 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.
Title: Re: Cultural Appropriation in Western Buddhism
Post by: stevie 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:
Title: Re: Cultural Appropriation in Western Buddhism
Post by: Dharma Flower 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.
Title: Re: Cultural Appropriation in Western Buddhism
Post by: Chaz 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 ....
Title: Re: Cultural Appropriation in Western Buddhism
Post by: Gibbon 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? 
Title: Re: Cultural Appropriation in Western Buddhism
Post by: Chaz 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.  ;-)
Title: Re: Cultural Appropriation in Western Buddhism
Post by: Gibbon 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?
Title: Re: Cultural Appropriation in Western Buddhism
Post by: Chaz 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.
Title: Re: Cultural Appropriation in Western Buddhism
Post by: Gibbon on November 15, 2019, 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?
Title: Re: Cultural Appropriation in Western Buddhism
Post by: VisuddhiRaptor on November 16, 2019, 12:27:34 am
western Buddhism.

The idea of "western Buddhism" sounds like Cultural Appropriation. To say referring to Pali or Sanskrit is Cultural Appropriation is illogical. Buddhism was original taught in Pali or Sanskrit and many Pali or Sanskrit terms are not so easily simply translated into Western languages.   
Title: Re: Cultural Appropriation in Western Buddhism
Post by: stillpointdancer on November 16, 2019, 03:21:19 am
From my studies of Buddhism, it's pretty clear that wherever it went it adapted to local customs and cultures. It's what gives it the variety and richness we see today, so westernisation is merely the continuation of such practice. What makes it different, of course, is that we have access to all the different ways it has developed and can pick and choose as takes our fancy. Luckily it is not quite this ephemeral as we also have the ability to see what the core elements are behind the seeming differences, and in doing so can study them redefine what they mean for us and for the practices we decide to undertake.
Title: Re: Cultural Appropriation in Western Buddhism
Post by: Chaz on November 16, 2019, 07:38:18 am
Buddhism was original taught in Pali or Sanskrit and many Pali or Sanskrit terms are not so easily simply translated into Western languages.

Well, I don't think you could be more wrong, VR, but thanks for stopping in.

All the words, phrases and concepts presented  in Pali or Sanskit can be translated into forms understandable in the west (or anywhere else for that matter). They are translated all the time. Thery have been for centuries. They should be translated.  It doesn't matter how difficult it is.
Title: Re: Cultural Appropriation in Western Buddhism
Post by: Mrs Malaprop on January 03, 2020, 12:43:04 am
Buddhism was original taught in Pali or Sanskrit and many Pali or Sanskrit terms are not so easily simply translated into Western languages.

Well, I don't think you could be more wrong, VR, but thanks for stopping in.

All the words, phrases and concepts presented  in Pali or Sanskit can be translated into forms understandable in the west (or anywhere else for that matter). They are translated all the time. Thery have been for centuries. They should be translated.  It doesn't matter how difficult it is.

I agree with Visuddhiraptor. Translations can be quite misleading, particularly the idiosyncratic ones.
Title: Re: Cultural Appropriation in Western Buddhism
Post by: Chaz on January 03, 2020, 10:55:36 pm
Translations can be quite misleading, particularly the idiosyncratic ones.

I always have some discomfort with statements like that.  I tend to think, to offer commentary on the quality of a translation, some qualification as a translator of the source language would be needed, wouldn't you say?
Title: Re: Cultural Appropriation in Western Buddhism
Post by: Mrs Malaprop on January 04, 2020, 01:19:28 am
Translations can be quite misleading, particularly the idiosyncratic ones.

I always have some discomfort with statements like that.  I tend to think, to offer commentary on the quality of a translation, some qualification as a translator of the source language would be needed, wouldn't you say?

The problem is that translators don't always agree. Also the meanings of common terms can vary according to which text they appear in. And different teachers and schools might well interpret he meaning of particular terms in different ways.
We do need translations, but I think they should always be regarded as provisional, and approached with caution.
Title: Re: Cultural Appropriation in Western Buddhism
Post by: Chaz on January 04, 2020, 07:27:03 am
The problem is that translators don't always agree. Also the meanings of common terms can vary according to which text they appear in.

Can you offer an example?

Quote
And different teachers and schools might well interpret he meaning of particular terms in different ways.

That's very true.

This could go all the way back to when the Buddha taught.  He probably have a teaching more than once.  It's quite likely he gave a teaching differently.  I would say this was to address the paricular needs of his audience on any given day.


Quote
We do need translations, but I think they should always be regarded as provisional, and approached with caution.

I don't think differences in translation are a bad thing and no reason for circumspection.  Different translation can give a wider perspective on the dharma.  One translator will say the First Noble Truth is Suffering.  Another will say Stress.  Neither, I think, is wrong.  I have a friend and teacher in Boulder, Co who stated that a better translaion for the phrase  "Four Noble Truths" in Pali might be "The Four Truths  Of The Noble Ones" .  There's a difference and an interesting one.  Right?  Wrong?  No one here can say, but it does offer opportunity for contemplation.
Title: Re: Cultural Appropriation in Western Buddhism
Post by: Mrs Malaprop on January 08, 2020, 05:13:24 am
The problem is that translators don't always agree. Also the meanings of common terms can vary according to which text they appear in.

Can you offer an example?

Quote
And different teachers and schools might well interpret he meaning of particular terms in different ways.

That's very true.

This could go all the way back to when the Buddha taught.  He probably have a teaching more than once.  It's quite likely he gave a teaching differently.  I would say this was to address the paricular needs of his audience on any given day.


Quote
We do need translations, but I think they should always be regarded as provisional, and approached with caution.

I don't think differences in translation are a bad thing and no reason for circumspection.  Different translation can give a wider perspective on the dharma.  One translator will say the First Noble Truth is Suffering.  Another will say Stress.  Neither, I think, is wrong.  I have a friend and teacher in Boulder, Co who stated that a better translaion for the phrase  "Four Noble Truths" in Pali might be "The Four Truths  Of The Noble Ones" .  There's a difference and an interesting one.  Right?  Wrong?  No one here can say, but it does offer opportunity for contemplation.

For example the meaning of dukkha varies according to context. Sometimes it means "unsatisfactory" and sometimes it means "suffering".
So it's not just about different translations of the same word.

Generally I agree it's useful to read several different translations of the same text, the differences can be quite illuminating.
Title: Re: Cultural Appropriation in Western Buddhism
Post by: Chaz on January 08, 2020, 06:57:48 pm
That's true, MM, but it's not the subject at hand.  My intent was tto discuss appropriation and the word dukkha is a great example.  Dukkha is a word that has different meanings, depending on context, and that's good, except nobody knows what it means and that's bad.

Maybe we should use the word "sucks".

There is that which sucks.  It sucks for a reason.  It can cease to suck.  The path to the cessation of sucking.

To say something sucks can have somewhat different meanings depending on context/usage.  And everyone in the western world knows what it means
Title: Re: Cultural Appropriation in Western Buddhism
Post by: stillpointdancer on May 25, 2020, 03:09:16 am
Part of the problem with translations is using English words, which of course had other meanings prior to being used in that particular context. We spent a lot of time at the Buddhist centre getting some kind of shared understanding of what words meant in particular contexts.
Title: Re: Cultural Appropriation in Western Buddhism
Post by: Joshua Daniel on July 13, 2020, 04:52:01 am
 I appreciate your nicely descriptive and elaborate topic. I hope you continue to have high quality title like this to share with everyone!. Thanks for the info.
Title: Re: Cultural Appropriation in Western Buddhism
Post by: Chaz on July 13, 2020, 03:27:02 pm
I appreciate your nicely descriptive and elaborate topic. I hope you continue to have high quality title like this to share with everyone!. Thanks for the info.

Joshua -  Thanks for the kind words, but I have to ask, why have you posted, more or lest, the same thing three out of the six times you,ve posted. 

No rule against it, but it is a little unusual.
Title: Re: Cultural Appropriation in Western Buddhism
Post by: Joshua Daniel on July 17, 2020, 12:53:06 am
Yes,  It wont repeat,Thanks for your true word.
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