Saturday, April 08, 2006

Intolerance Of and In Buddhism

The Dalai Lama is a New Age false prophet. This is the view of Olive Tree Ministries founder and director Jan Markell, who works at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. She thinks a planned visit by the Dalai Lama will only harm the patients there. In her view, these suffering people need to turn over their lives to Jesus Christ and not some "false prophet, who probably is going to give them some kind of lie because he represents everything that has to do with the New Age movement."

But wait, there's more:
At a time in the Church and in society when many people desire to experience God in a fresh new way, she contends, bringing the Dalai Lama before people who are already in a vulnerable state just paves the road for false doctrine and New Age spirituality to enter their lives.

But despite what Tibetan Buddhism teaches, Olive Tree Ministries' founder asserts, the Dalai Lama cannot offer anyone peace because there is no true peace apart from salvation in Jesus. "The intriguing thing," she says, "is the way people are flocking to want to hear this man. I guess I don't understand, other than that we're in such days of deception now, as the Bible predicted."

Markell suspects that the public's fascination with the Dalai Lama may be a mark of many people's desire to have a fresh encounter with God. "But this is a false god in a false religion, who has nothing to offer anybody," she emphasizes. "As a matter of fact, he's a Buddhist, and Buddhists don't even believe there's a God."
And the Catholics wonder why they are losing so many people in the Western nations. Buddhism is a New Age belief?! I guess that may be true if by New Age you mean 500 years before Jesus was even born.

This kind of ignorance and intolerance is so archaic -- and it is not limited to Christians (see below). But it does clearly illustrate that there is little difference between the intolerance of Islam and the intolerance of Christianity when it comes to other faiths. Both religions have built-in virus protection that allows followers to believe they adhere to the one true religion and that everyone else is a heathen or an infidel.

However, it really isn't fair to condemn the whole religion simply because so many of its followers are stuck in the authoritarian Blue meme (click here for a brief explanation of the memes and their colors). The religion itself encourages a Blue meme worldview at the organized level, but the greatest teachers from all faiths, including Christian and Muslim, advocate a much more open and relativistic approach to faith.

No Catholic did more to advance that perspective than did Thomas Merton. But so many of the advances that were made during his lifetime have been rejected in this age of regression.

As Buddhists, how do we promote tolerance and a better understanding of what it means to be a Buddhist when our own leader's views are being co-opted by the religious right in this country?

An article in the Telegraph (UK) about the Dalai Lama points out his own very conservative views on homosexuality.
Although he is known for his tolerant, humane views, he is a surprisingly harsh critic of homosexuality. If you are a Buddhist, he says, it is wrong. "Full stop.

No way round it.

"A gay couple came to see me, seeking my support and blessing. I had to explain our teachings. Another lady introduced another woman as her wife - astonishing. It is the same with a husband and wife using certain sexual practices. Using the other two holes is wrong."

At this point, he looks across at his interpreter - who seems mainly redundant - to check that he has been using the right English words to discuss this delicate matter. The interpreter gives a barely perceptible nod.

"A Western friend asked me what harm could there be between consenting adults having oral sex, if they enjoyed it," the Dalai Lama continues, warming to his theme. "But the purpose of sex is reproduction, according to Buddhism. The other holes don't create life. I don't mind - but I can't condone this way of life."

We might expect such a narrow, close-minded view from the Pope, or Pat Roberson, or any Islamic cleric, but from the Dalai Lama?

What a Blue meme viewpoint, which would seem to run in direct opposition to some of the highest teachings of Vajrayana Buddhist tantra (but I am no expert). As Western Buddhists, many of us want our spiritual leader to be as relativistic as are we. Most Western followers are approaching or are centered in the Green meme worldcentric viewpoint, with its tolerance, egalitarianism, and embrace of sexual freedom for consenting adults.

So how do we come to terms with a teacher who still equates sexuality with reproduction and not with the expression of love and creativity? Do we reject him and the teachings? Do we just reject that teaching?

Or do we attempt to disengage our egos from the situation and see the Dalai Lama, the man, and Buddhism, the religion, as products of an Iron Age culture that was completely isolated from the rest of the world during his and its formative years? He may have achieved the highest levels of consciousness currently available to human beings, but he is still a man who is shaped by the unique collection of vMemes that form his identity and his religion.

However, we might want to separate the man from his teachings.

If we look at him within the quadrants, we might see that he is highly developed in the intentional realm (interior-individual), but would appear to be lacking in the cultural (interior-collective). These cultural views influence his understanding of the behavioral, so that anyone who engages in non-procreative sex is accumulating bad karma. Does this make him less of a spiritual leader? Yes and no.

The cultural/behavioral views he expresses place a great many of us in the position of rejecting his teachings in this area or of fearing that we are accumulating bad karma because of who and how we love. This is clearly a false teaching from our vierwpoint.

But if we clearly see his teachings on this as a product of his time, his culture, and his religion, which does not make them correct or justify them in any way, we can separate the wheat from the chaff. We might notice that he claims to have no problem with non-reproductive sex, but makes it clear that Buddhism teaches that it is wrong. We're not likely to hear the Pope say he's down with a little oral sex, but it's just Catholic teaching that says it's wrong.

Buddhism -- like Judaism, Christianity, and Hinduism -- is an Iron Age religion with cultural viewpoints locked into it that reflect views from that time in history. This may be one place where Sam Harris is correct: we need to get some of the religion out of Buddhism. I wouldn't go as far as Harris would like, but clearly there are archaic viewpoints in Buddhist cultural teaching that must be ignored or removed.

I wish the Dalai Lama would bring a more modern approach to his Buddhist teachings, but he is merely the representative of the religion. Still, if he said that Buddhism was wrong on this point, people would listen and it wouldn't have the same effect as the Pope doing so.

People expect the Dalai Lama to be more open-minded and are often surprised when he isn't.

As Buddhists, our goal should be to seek the end of suffering for all beings. If the Dalai Lama's visit to the Mayo Clinic can end some suffering, that's great, no matter what the Catholics think. For the rest of us, removing the stigma from same-sex love needs to be part of that agenda to end suffering.

[image source]


Anonymous said...

I keep thinking of how this question of meme development is probably so much more complex than we quite realize. I was dismayed when I first heard of the Dalai Lama's take on homosexuality. I was distraught, really, since I'd always thought he was the bee's knees. Then I got some perspective (that word again!). I think--almost irrevocably--where we are raised, and how we are raised shapes certain of our views, installs (permanent) blinkers in a sense. Sometimes when I am abroad, for example, I'm amazed at how seemingly intrinsically the people have a much better sense of how to prioritize life: the French, the Cubans, for example, care so much more for their friends and families than we do: we cherish busyness, and working, and "productiveness." I think Wilber, so brilliant, so wise, in so many different ways, is rather a dunce on feminism and sexism. I am shocked at times at how Black friends, intimately conversant in the workings of racism against Blacks, cannot abstract that insight into an understanding of racism against any other race. On and on it goes. Finally I decided this is simply the truth of manifest existence: no matter how wise, how enlightened, how educated and intrinsically intelligent, there will always be vast areas in which one (we) are a moron. This awareness helps me strive more mightily against my own idiocies.

Kai in NYC

william harryman said...

I agree completely.

I was pretty bummed when I found out His Holiness teaches that same-sex love is wrong in Buddhism. But the more I thought about it, the more it seemed a part of the religious tradition more than his particular belief.

He never goes out of his way to condemn homosexuality, but he won't shy away from the subject when it comes up.

Anyway, I agree with what you said.


Anonymous said...

His Holiness The Fourteenth Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso, incarnation of previous Dalai Lamas (or maybe not, who can prove?), is, after all, just like Shakyamuni and every other soul on the planet, a fallible, imperfect human being. I still think he's the bee's knees. He totally 'gets it,' as far as spiritual development is concerned, but don't ask a monk to talk to you about sex :)

But seriously, Kai and Bill, I'm with you - his view is almost certainly a function of his upbringing in the area. People need to recognize that the condemnation of homosexual behavior is pretty cross-cultural and it's a strong perception that is going to take a very long time to change. Also keep in mind that the Dalai Lama is from a different generation as well as a totally different continent.