Author Topic: Cultural Baggage  (Read 65 times)

Chaz

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Cultural Baggage
« on: February 10, 2021, 08:00:51 PM »
People sometimes express a certain displeasure with the "cultural baggage" they see in Buddhism today.  This is often directed towards Tibetan Buddhism. 

It's certainly true that there are a lot of culturally relevant trappings associated with those traditions and lineages.  Is this really "baggage", or rather a way to ethnocentricly describe the cultural context in which TB is presented?

Additionally, wouldn't these assertions of "baggage" acctually have roots in cultural baggage as well?
« Last Edit: February 11, 2021, 09:15:16 PM by Chaz »

Gibbon

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Re: Cultural Baggage
« Reply #1 on: February 11, 2021, 02:32:23 AM »
What would be some examples of that? 

Chaz

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Re: Cultural Baggage
« Reply #2 on: February 11, 2021, 07:51:20 PM »
What would be some examples of that?

I'll take a stab at that ...

Using Tibetan Buddhism (TB) as an example, people often point to the cultural trappings of TB as "baggage".  This includes, but isn't limited to, iconography, ritual, dress, and doctrine such as karma and rebirth.  Baggage, in the English language used in this context, is always negative.  The term "Cultural Baggage" is seldom if ever neutral.

It occurs to me that such thinking is, in large part, ethnocentric - the baggage is directly and negatively related to a particular culture.  It's not solely that the baggage is in some way unacceptable, the cultural source of the so-called baggage is perhaps the larger issue. 

Wouldn't this ethnocentricity be cultural baggage as well?
« Last Edit: February 11, 2021, 09:16:30 PM by Chaz »

Gibbon

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Re: Cultural Baggage
« Reply #3 on: February 11, 2021, 10:33:55 PM »
Thank you, Chaz -- I was typing on a mobile device in a bit of a hurry, but this is exactly what I was looking for -- some concrete examples to start the discussion.  Of course, it is hard to see outside one's own upbringing and belief system -- in the West they are heavily influenced by Christianity, on one side, and the European Enlightenment ideas.  So, yes, such views are definitely conditioned and could themselves be considered "cultural baggage".

In general, there is a tendency to remove anything that is magical or miraculous and leave just the material.  This strikes me as very Protestant thinking.  The Buddha is not the only victim -- there was a scholar, for example, Ernest Renan, who did the same thing to Jesus Christ.  He just stripped the Gospels of all the miracles and published a tedious life of Jesus as a regular Joe.

Karma and rebirth are central to the teaching of the Buddha and I don't see how one can skip that -- if uncomfortable with both, it is probably best to become (or remain) a Christian.  The Christian idea is that we are all born as blank slates and the Creator then doles out fates to us, possibly at random.  This has never made any sense to me, but a lot of people think it is natural.

As to rituals, implements, and such, they serve a profound function in transforming the mind of the practitioner.  The challenge is not to use them for materialistic ends which defeats the purpose.  We have all met people who are dressed to the nines in Buddhist paraphernalia, but is their practice pure -- does it lead to a transformation of the mind?  On the other hand, throwing it all away can also be pollution of the Dharma, so it is better to strike the middle ground.

The Tibetans spent a lot of time adopting Indian culture as a vehicle for Buddhism.  They have great respect for it.  If you look at a Dharma text in Tibetan, it will have titles in both Sanskrit and Tibetan and even the shape of the book derives from that of Indian manuscripts.  Tibetan Buddhism is basically Indian Buddhism that has evolved in some outside aspects to adapt to its new environment.  But the transmission of Dharma to Tibet was pure and complete -- there was neither rejection nor aping. 

Anemephistus

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Re: Cultural Baggage
« Reply #4 on: February 23, 2021, 04:13:05 AM »
With regards to christian ideas influencing associative thinking as a kind of western meme, I am a bit of a dry on the mystic aspect sort of thinker and am sometimes confronted with a solid confusion as I attempt to explain that my understanding of things does not result in "something" that is "really me"becoming for instance a Donkey....There must be, without question some challenges to overcome. I don't mean to offend because I understand this thinking is sect specific but its hard without context to even explain whats off about the question.

I enjoy the idea of "baggage" just because it conveys that it comes from group thinking and results in misunderstanding. The thinking I encountered with Buddhist thought the first time was earth shattering for me. Long divergent groups with wholly different foundational understandings using language to transmit what took millennia to form and practiced in some way or another as cultural behavior and expressed or veiled under many different heritages....Sometimes its just a wonder we can speak to one another.

Chaz

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Re: Cultural Baggage
« Reply #5 on: February 28, 2021, 11:52:43 PM »
Long divergent groups with wholly different foundational understandings using language to transmit what took millennia to form and practiced in some way or another as cultural behavior and expressed or veiled under many different heritages....Sometimes its just a wonder we can speak to one another.

Yes it is, but is we are to understand what others are trying to say, we must not only understand thee actual language we have to understand the culture as well.  They go hand-in-hand.

For example, When Tibetan teachers talk about meditation, they often use the word "Gom" - their word for "meditation".  The word actually means "become familiar".  This is important and interesting as it shows how the culture relates to the activity/practice.  In the west most people often think of something like navel-gazing when we talk about meditation.  When a Tibetan meditation master teaches "meditation" he teaching somehing quite different that.  Unless we make an effort to look into the cultural underpinnings of a people, we are less likely to understand them.  It's important and not something we should be so careless to discard.

 

anything