Asian Buddhism and westerners
About the Chinese:
Having been around the Chinese for approximately 20 years, married to a Chinese immigrant girl for 17 of them, I have a few observations.
First, immigrant Chinese have a view of China as a traditional country with a 5000 year history. Much of Chinese society is shaped by Confucianism and a lot of held views can be traced back to Taoist superstitions, local shamanic religions and beliefs.
Chinese immigrant view of Westerners is that we are Scientific and live in a technological culture. They know of us as Christians and that we believe in The Bible and Jesus. To them, this is how a Westerner is, and is typically viewed.
For a Chinese immigrant to meet a Westerner who is not Christian, then they think you are Jew, a Christian who does not believe in Jesus and wears funny hats. For them to meet a Westerner who believes in Buddhism (A funeral religion as most view in China and the Far-east) well, it is as funny to them as a westerner meeting an African person who believes and performs Native American religious rain dances.
Most immigrant Chinese know of Buddhism from what their older relatives have told them, shown them, or hold this mystic view that Buddhism is a Chinese traditional custom and belief of their ancestors. Again, how a non-Chinese can claim and hold what they see as their heritage belief is beyond them!
For westerners to attend a Chinese Buddhist church, we are always seen as guest, perhaps with a Chinese spouse or friend who is a practitioner. Westerners are not taken seriously, when any expression of belief or actually wanting to engage in the Buddhist religion. Sometimes this ‘disbelief’ and not being taken seriously by the Chinese is viewed as Racism, though it is actually more of an ethnocentric view the Chinese hold.
Here are my most recent examples:
Falun Gong, now called Falun Dafa is a Chinese political movement centered around a messianic teachings of Li Hongzhi (who is viewed as a savior/bodhisattva). They have a bible called “Zhuan Falun” and a set of ‘qigong postures’ (Chinese Yoga) that they claim will channel Holy energy from the Master to the practitioner.
Now I have read the book, found it to be contradictory within itself, filled with fallacies and unsubstantiated claims of attainment that the author states, as well working a lot of Taoist and Chinese superstition into a hodgepodge of weak metaphysical tenets of belief. Though at first they claimed to be a Buddhist school, they quickly backed off that claim as the larger Chinese Buddhist community came down hard on them. They are mostly seen as a political activist group that protest the Chinese Communist Party in public parks, in front of government buildings and popular monuments.
I have stated my view of the book when they asked me, and was told by them that, “I read it wrong”. When I stated that I did read it correctly, then they said that I must have read the wrong version. Then I pointed out it is the current version, so they said that westerners cannot understand the book because we are not Chinese and did not suffer the Chinese Communist persecution. So, there you have the ethnocentric view again.
As for the exercises, this ‘qigong’, I found them to be quite Yogic in where the entire body is moved and stretched, though this aspect of ‘transferring holy power from the master to yourself as to empower the Falun (dharma wheel) that he says is in your belly’ is completely unsupported in any Buddhist scripture or Taoist writings though you do see ‘empowerment’ like this in religious yoga and vajrayana (Tibetan shamanism) and local Chinese shamanic religion.
Chinese Pureland and Ch’an are nearly inseparable, where Pureland is more of the layman practice and ch’an that of the monk who takes up the Chinese Vinaya. A lot of Chinese Pureland revolved around ascended Masters who claim divinity rites to preach Buddhas Law, because they are ‘enlightened’ and have the mind of Buddha – so they claim or their core supporters claim. A lot of Chinese Pureland tends to run in personality cults such as with Supreme Master Ching Hai, or with celebrity monks like Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua, Master Shen Yang, and many others.
Western mind vs. Chinese mind:
The Chinese tell westerners that, “You are just suppose to believe what you are told”, and not actually use any critical thinking (Reason, logic, or rationality), because they view that as, ‘of the human realm, and what good is that when you die?” To the Chinese mind, the transcended masters know what is beyond death of the body and are here to help you prepare for your next life, a better life, a chance to achieve enlightenment in where most Chinese do not view that as possible in this world.
Westerners however look to actually achieving Buddhahood (the view of ultimate reality that the Buddha expounded) in this lifetime. Such a view to the Chinese mind is absurd, and only those who have lived a virtuous life of a monk could possibly have such lofty aspirations, where as such aspirations from a non-monk, let alone a westerner, is viewed as ridiculously absurd by the common Chinese person.
Westerners to appropriate Asian Buddhist religious culture is viewed by the Ethnic Asian persons of using their ethnic religion and culture to mock Western religion and culture. Where as it is not viewed as ‘Mocking, if westerners entered their cultural religion through their means and ways, in how the westerners enter the Thai Forest monastic tradition through the Thai controlled temples. Westerners that actually speak fluent Chinese and have gone to the Chinese monastic training centers who have been sponsored by the Chinese temples are generally accepted by the Chinese as serious practitioners.
Now, the Chinese would accept a Western adaptation of Chinese Buddhism, in where westerners are the majority of practitioners, but that has never been done. What attempts have been created in a hybrid cross-over from Chinese culture to western culture tended to carry the Mocking aspect with it, in where the hybrid religion was a ‘separate culture onto itself (Cult or cultus) and not that of Chinese or Western, yet deemed superior by those who created the cult.
In short, there is no Western Buddhism per say, though there are a number of academic and learned people who have gone through the Asian Buddhism to successfully translate and transition Buddhism to a completely western cultural expression. Yet, why is this not being done?
The answer lies within current western culture itself, in where we have been in an identity crisis for the last 50 years. We are a culture currently at war with ourselves, and this war plays out nightly though the technological media that nearly every westerner is plugged in to. In this hyper-state of cultural civil war introduction of new ideas and thinking simply gets lost in the noise of bickering, infighting and complaints. Nobody is actually looking for a way out or a change because nobody is yet tired of the cultural civil war. When that happens, then a western Buddhism would be viable.