Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Old British Colonialist Within

At the 2013 Buddhist Geeks conference in Boulder, Colorado, Zen teacher David Loy said, and I hope I have the quote exactly right, “we must tear down the myth of traditional Buddhist cosmology.” 

My initial response was a defensive one, my mind responding to this—and other similar statements—with an immediate “Who you calling ‘we,’ white boy?” 

I applied the key points of my practice to my subsequent emotional upheaval, which was admittedly already brewing from two speakers who had already that day mis-characterized the core practice of my own tradition.  Up front, I have to admit that my attempt to transform my own reactions to this kind of approach to the Buddhadharma into non-dual open awareness were completely unsuccessful.   I made several tweets during the talk that were snarky, albeit nowhere near as snarky as I felt at the time… and I am going to continue on in that vein.

I have three objections to Mr. Loy’s statement:


The first is the “we.”  The Buddhist Geeks conference is noted for being frequented by practitioners in their 20’s and 30’s.  This is one of the most cool things about it.  I am a white woman in my 50’s who wants to see younger people benefit from genuine Dharma.  The conference attendees are largely white, and the speakers intentionally included some people of color and women (bravo!), but no Asians, as far as I could tell.

The conference speakers who made the most claims about being wise and knowledgeable enough to determine what was valuable and what was not valuable in all forms of traditional Buddhadharma the world over, and – overtly or implicitly – what should be discarded, were mostly white male baby boomers.  I feel this mindset has unconscious white colonialist underpinnings. Quoting Osterhammel on Colonialism, via Wiki, “the colonizers are convinced of their own superiority and their ordained mandate to rule.”

Must Tear Down

A call to arms for Westerners to tear down traditional Buddhist beliefs has in it the implicit assumptions that we Westerners have a mandate to rule Buddhism.  The overt rationale is that science trumps tradition.  In this vein, Loy labeled the parts of the Dharma that he did not believe in as myths, such as “the myth of the Bodhisattva.”

Buddhist Cosmology

Western science’s study of the nature of reality and the nature of consciousness is in its infancy.  The idea that anything in Buddhist cosmology can be ruled out based on science is absurd.  These kinds of thoughts, that the Dharma consists of only what can be measured, come out of our own discomfort with the inherently illusory nature of the phenomena that appear in our sense fields.  It is soothing to our western habit to materialize the Dharma and reject the idea that there is anything beyond what we can measure and see.  The idea that “others,” i.e. Asian yogis and scholars, have a greater realization or understanding of reality is unacceptable.  We must eliminate any such thought immediately!


Susan said...

Interesting post - I would hesitate to use the concept of colonialism - but definitely something is awry. I'll have to check out Loy's presentation. But I pretty much agree with what you have said, both positive and negative. This is a trend that is very strong and pervasive. The way I see it, one reason why it is so difficult to respond to is that there are two levels of reality involved, one of which is implicitly denied by Loy and others who see things from that perspective. It takes someone who is brilliant, very knowledgeable, and adept at debate to make any headway against this current. That's not me, sadly, though you are a lot closer! However, it is yet another reason for practice - for me, the more I can realize what I've been taught, the more I can be in myself the counter-argument.

Yudron Wangmo said...

Thank you for commenting.

Well, Dungse Thinley Norbu Rinpoche just used the word racism to describe this. People didn't get it at all when an interview came out in Tricycle magazine in which he said that. In general, I agree the best thing to do is to bring our own practice to a conclusion right here in the "West." Then, the effectiveness of having faith in the Buddha's teachings will be evident.

My own experience in Vajayana Buddhism is that without amping up the faith and, yes, devotion, practice is pretty ineffective. Faith and devotion is the key element that is makes the path of Vajrayana so swift.

I can't tell whether some of these long term meditators who want to recreate Buddhism according to their own design were doing that from the beginning--not trusting their teachers and traditions from the start--or whether they did trust and weren't happy with the results of their years of practice.

palbar said...

Intellectual colonization of Buddha dharma is part of the western objectivistic stance that pretense of superiority by virtue of a scientific method. It is part of the western episteme.