Friday, August 14, 2009

Why I'm Not a Buddhist, Part 2

Part 1 of this story can be found here.

Shortly after I got back from Germany, I landed a job in the Dallas/Fort Worth area and moved up there. Most of the Buddhist literature I'd read talked about the benefits of regularly meditating with a group and studying under a teacher. So I decided that once I was settled in my new environment, I would try to do that.

Like the denominations in Christianity, there are different schools of thought of Buddhism. The big ones are:
  • Theravada (the oldest current school)
  • Mahayana (includes Zen and most of the groups Westerners think of when they hear "Buddhism")
  • Vajrayana (includes Tibetan Buddhism)
The book I'd read was written by a Theravadin monk, but at that time, the bulk of the information I found on local groups was in the Zen tradition, so I began to focus in that direction. I read some of the standard books on Zen and attended some introductory classes at a zendo (a Zen meditation hall) that were followed by zazen (the actual sitting meditation).

The meditation was beneficial enough, but I found the group experience unsatisfying for three reasons:
  • The actual teacher in charge of the group was very inaccessible. In fact, I never met the guy, even after months of sitting with the group.
  • Conversations seemed to revolve around showing off one's "Zen cred" rather than actually working through any meaningful issues, or even just chit-chatting about each other's families and jobs.
  • People talked about things like chakras and thousand-armed goddesses, assuming they needed no explanation or evidence. A bit odd when you consider that most of these people had probably come to Buddhism from Christianity or Judaism.
Several years later and in a completely different part of the country, I had essentially the same experience in another zendo. So I don't think it's just me.

It seems that any time a group of people tries to get together to practice Buddhism, it tends to get fused with whatever the local folk religion is. This is even somewhat true in the US, where you can find places advertising a sort of Christian/Zen synthesis. Also, if you consider New Age hippie crap a religion, you can definitely find your share of Buddhist groups fused with that in this country.

Or maybe the moral of the story is just, beware the Asian spirituality group with no Asians in it.


  1. "Or maybe the moral of the story is just, beware the Asian spirituality group with no Asians in it.
    That's a good one, I'll have to use that sometime :D.

  2. @Deip, feel free! Glad you like it. Also note that the issue is not unique to Buddhist organizations in this country. There are organizations, mostly on the west coast, that have taken similar liberties with Hindu teachings. Fortunately, those groups neutralize their effectiveness by getting in catfights with each other. Who says evolutionary principles can't apply to religion?

  3. Hmm, well I know that Richard Dawkins says that it can xD