Friday, July 14, 2017

Am I a Tibetan Buddhist?

In response to reports of sexual relationships between a Tibetan lama and several female students at a New York dharma center, Lama Rod Owens shared this commentary.

It's an extraordinary piece because of its depth, vulnerability, and honesty. All Buddhism is based in patriarchy, reflecting the cultures in which it developed. Tibetan Buddhism emphasizes devotion to the guru as the path to realization. By breaking our identification with our small, unhappy, world-of-endurance selves and identifying instead with enlightened beings, under instructions from the guru, we move closer to realization. But this clears a path for abuse. Confused beings taught to revere their gurus will do what they are told to do by the guru, who may be confused himself and act unethically.

This has always bothered me about Tibetan Buddhism and probably figures into why my guru is a woman -- an American woman, at that, who has struggled with the Tibetan Buddhist patriarchy. My practice is Tibetan,  though, and the Tibetan culture in general is elevated. I often wonder why. Yes, this is where the practices originated, but the practices have legs and work outside of that cultural envelope. If we revere all things Tibetan as somehow more spiritually valuable, we're taking on a lot of baggage beyond the practices. (Lama Rod discusses that -- go read his full statement.)

This passage in his statement caught my attention:

Finally this: I do not identify as a Tibetan Buddhist practitioner or teacher any longer. Tibetanism as a cultural influence has been a source of struggle for me. I am currently identifying as a Tantric Buddhist practitioner and lama. I am seeking to understand what Tantra is without the influence of Tibetan culture. 

This is something I will be contemplating.

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