Inspired by: “The Making of Buddhist Modernism” by David L. McMahan, 2008. (see my Index post)
In chapter 2, “The Spectrum of Tradition and Modernism”, McMahan creates five fictional (yet typically realistic) portraits of very different types of Buddhist believers:
- A Western Buddhist Sympathizer
- A Thai Laywoman
- An American Dharma Teacher
- A Traditional Monk
- An Asian Modernizer
The “Traditional Monk”, in his portrait, is from the same Tibetan Buddhist sect as the Dalai Lama called “Gelugpa”. McMahan tells us how meditation is only a small part of the 20 years of training to obtain the sect’s Buddhist Ph.D. (“geshe”). Instead of meditation, the monks train largely in philosophy, doctrinal debate and rituals. Of that training he states [red emphasis is mine]:
“Although Tibetan Buddhism is modernizing in many ways, the curricula at its monastic training centers are still essentially traditional–that is, their purpose is to investigate, interpret, and reaffirm normative truths, in contrast to the liberal education model in the West, which is pluralistic and ideally encourages inquiry not directed to the predetermined conclusions of a specific tradition. …..
His is not a pluralistic education that presents a wide variety of views and then encourages students to reason their way to their own conclusions. Alternate view are presented mainly to be critiqued and dismissed. Thus all the ideas and practices in his monastic training serve to construct a universe that appears unique, realistic, plausible, and coherent.” (pgs 39-40)
This is probably far from the idealized view held by Western Buddhists about their Tibetan monks teachers. Western devotees can’t imagine the mysterious monks of the Orient being trained with the same blind, narrow training of Christian apologists. Yet many Western Buddhist are drawn to the wonderful, categorical certainty preached in “Dharma talks” by these monk apologists (and their disciples) in a similar way many Christians are drawn to their apologists. Certainty can be very comforting.
The apologetic training typified in McMahan’s paragraph above is pervasive not only in religion, but in sciences and nationalistic histories and much more. Heck, I wonder if even some Atheists train themselves the same way.
The propaganda value due to the internal security of constructing a “unique” world which dismisses others as wholly other can not be underestimated. The naivety of believing oneself to be wholly different and special than others, is blinding. The word “unique” in the above quote inspired this post and was pre-shadowed by my previous posts on “We aren’t a religion” and “Is your Religion Unique“.