File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2001/lyotard.0106, message 42

Date: Mon, 11 Jun 2001 20:50:21 -0500
Subject: Re: Tantalizing times


no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. as you note in many of
your posts, there are factions and sects within all factions. not all
Buddhists believe in reincarnation of the 'soul' as a personal identity,
or all those bodisattvas flying about on different levels. neither do
all christians believe in the efficacy of all the saints, or purgatory
either, as a place. 4eg. people can tend to see nihilism in a creed
which does not explicitly encourage living, and stimulating the senses.
it can be misunderstood very easily. my take is that buddhism has a core
value of compassion for all living things. the attitude toward life is
more similar in some ways to that of the stoics (if my reading of seneca


You certainly raise some valid points. I was doing a quick summary with
an emphasis on the western reception of Buddhism so I tended to glide
over some of the differences among the various historical Buddhist

I recognize (still simplifying) that among these major traditions
primary ones are Therevada, Tibetian and Mahayana Buddhism and within
the same tradition there can be sects as different in orientation as
Pure Land Buddhism and Zen.  

I also find it interesting that Buddhism is an extremely missionary
religion.  In its own birthplace of India, Buddhism today constitutes a
fairly small sect.  Its real strength lies elsewhere, in countries such
as Thailand, Indonesia, China, Japan, Korea and Tibet.  The fact that
Buddhism is now gaining adherents in Europe and North America seems
linked to this ongoing missionary tradition.

Furthermore, I must acknowledge that most of my understanding of
Buddhism comes primarily from books and most this reading has been very
filtered by the perspective of the Western reception of Buddhism. So, my
overall knowledge and experience of Buddhism is extremely limited.

I recognize as well that in this Western reception, Buddhism often
becomes extremely demythologized and I agree with your point that it is
possible to have a stripped down Buddhism without bodisattvas, floating
lotus worlds and reincarnation.  I also agree with you that parallels
exist with Buddhism and Seneca.  (Although since Seneca explicitly
critiqued the Epicureans from the typical Stoic stance which saw virtue,
and obedience to the teleological law of the universe as the primordial
stance always to be chosen over pleasure, it tends to reinforce my
larger point in contrasting Buddhism with Epicureanism.)

One of the things I have noticed about contemporary Western Buddhism is
that it tends to be interpreted psychologically to fit with standard
psychotherapeutic approaches.  As such, it also often in danger of being
reduced to a neutral technique or methodology, capable of being
manipulated for various ends.  (i.e. Buddhist meditation techniques
taught in a corporate setting to improve employee morale and increase
overall efficiency.)

There is also a naivete with this reception that tends to rip Buddhism
out of its social and historical context and make it into a kind of
disneyfied version of spirituality.  Even though I am sympathetic with
the political issues regarding Tibet, I also feel it has sometimes been
seen by Westerners as a kind of Shangra-La, a fairy tale kingdom. It
doesn't help that Hollywood has also been instrumental in granting
Technicolor shape and form to this mythology.

In actual practice, Tibet was a theocracy in which certain groups were
oppressed and marginalized and servants and workers exploited.  It
tended to be a very authoritarian traditional-bound society.  Hardly a
model for paradise.

Another related issue is that Buddhism in Japan has historically tended
to be tied to the military and the cult of the Emperor.  Many of the
Japanese Buddhists such as Suzuki who were influential in bringing Zen
to the West had very pro-imperialist sympathies during World War II and
others continue to act as a conservative force in current Japanese
society.  Some of this history has been covered by Brian Victoria in a
book called "Zen at War".

Here is a Amazon blurb about the book as well as an related Email from
the author.  

"Zen at War offers a penetrating look at the close relationship that
existed between Zen Buddhism and Japanese militarism prior to World War
II. Using the actual words of leading Japanese Zen masters and scholars,
the author shows that Zen served as a powerful spiritual and ideological
foundation for the fanatic and suicidal spirit displayed by the imperial
Japanese military. At the same time, the author tells the dramatic and
tragic stories of the handful of Buddhist organizations and individuals
that dared to oppose Japan's march to war. He follows this history up to
the recent apologies of several Zen sects for their support of the war,
and the reemergence of what he calls corporate Zen in postwar Japan. ."

The author, Brian (Daizen) Victoria e-mail: , March 16, 1998
"Holy war" is, sadly, a universal phenomenon.
I feel compelled to issue a warning to potential readers that they may
find parts of "Zen At War" offensive. Unfortunately, like the Holocaust,
there are some things in life that are genuinely and horrifically
offensive. All of us are, of course, free to ignore such things though
we do so at the peril of seeing the 'offense' repeated again in the
future. Next time, however, whatever happens will also be our
The concept of "holy war" is certainly not unique to Zen in particular
or Buddhism in general. Sadly, it can be found in all of the world's
major religions at one time or another in their long histories. This,
however, does not lessen the responsibility of those who would call
themselves (Zen) Buddhists to work to ensure that Buddhist-endorsed holy
war is brought to an end. Naturally, the same holds true for the
faithful of all the world's religions. 

Should you be offended/hurt/disillusioned by what you read in "Zen At
War," I am genuinely sorry. I can only hope that you will turn the pain
you feel into positive, constructive, and compassionate action directed
toward ending "holy war" whenever and wherever it occurs." 


Obviously, I don't want to throw out the Buddha with the bathwater.  I
recognize Buddhism has many valuable aspects, including the emphasis on
compassion, the analysis of desire which shares many similarities with
Epicurean teaching, and its negative paradoxical language which has
often been a vehicle for expressing sublime aspects concerning the
inherent voidness of things.

I just feel we need to remain vigilant and keep a critical stance.  As
one Zen master put it: "If you meet the Buddha coming down the road,
kill him."  



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