The Buddhism I saw during my decade in Asia is very different from the Western Buddhism I have seen which is philosophically sanitized, romantically idealized and righteously politicized to match the palate of her audience. The sappy Western flavor is not better or worse than the superstition-soaked Eastern flavor — both, are simply religious recipes.
A fantastic book describing this re-cooking of Buddhism is David McMahan’s book, The Making of Buddhism Modernism. But if you have less reading time, you might enjoy Tim McGirk’s recent article in “Believer” magazine called “Reincarnation in Exile” describing some recent sensuous holy Buddhist feasts. I’ve listed a few notes below to perhaps tantalize you into reading McGirks’ great article. And for kicks, you could visit my other blog, Fields of Yuan, where I show how McGirk’s language help illustrate that the line between poetry and prose is often fuzzy — sacrilege in some poetry worlds (a religious realm of its own).
- Tim McGirk is a former Time magazine bureau chief in South Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America, and has written frequently on Tibet. He is currently writing a novel and helping to run the Investigative Reporting Program at U.C. Berkeley.
- Writing about reincarnated Rinpoche and Lamas he says: “Like any system of dynastic succession, this one was vulnerable to political intrigue, manipulation, and mistake;”
- “…the sixth Dalai Lama loved wine, carousing, and singing songs to his favorite Lhasa courtesans. He came to a bad end.”
- He tells us of the several reincarnated famous young lamas and their life of revelry in samsara: sex, music, money and more. In the later half, he tells us of the fate of the Dalai Lama’s brother.
- If any woman could lure a shy and devout scholar-monk [like Kagyur Rinpoche] away from his vows of celibacy, it was Mandakini.
- [reincarnation] is also a way of coping with the grief of losing a teacher. [But also,] the late teacher’s devotees usually have a vested emotional and, at times, material interest in keeping things as they were.
- Why were so many rinpoches abandoning their monastic vows? — “This is probably a good thing. There’s too much devotion toward them. Blind faith. They’re treated like shamans, with special powers,” he replied. “I don’t like the idea of depending on these ‘special’ people for your own deliverance when you have to do it yourself.”
- The Dalai Lama’s brother is quoted at the end saying, “It looks like their bank account has a tremendous asset from their past karma.”