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Lazy Eye
13 Nov 11, 12:39
Taiwan is home to the Fo Guang Order, Dharma Drum Mountain, and Tzu Chi among other notable Mahayana Buddhist organizations. I've never been there, but am curious to know what it's like. In particular, what is it like for a Westerner who is practicing (or investigating) the dharma?

What are some distinctive features of Taiwanese Buddhism as compared to elsewhere? What might be most surprising to someone coming from the outside, perhaps with some book knowledge of Buddhism or experience practicing in a Western setting? Is it easy to find a teacher?

What role does Buddhism play in the society as a whole? Is there an interest among young people? Does the average person calling himself/herself "Buddhist" really have a serious interest in it?

Will be interested to hear any experiences/insights from those who have been there.

Yuan
13 Nov 11, 14:40
This is a big topic, and it will be difficult to answer all your questions in one reply. So I will start with some basic observations and if any one is interested, I am happy to answer questions, or find out from people who can.

1. I have never practiced Buddhism in the west, so I am not sure how it compares. But based on my survey on the internet, it seems like the Buddhism as practiced in the U.S. (and maybe other English speaking countries) tends to be one of the following 3 schools, Tibetan, Soto (Japanese Zen), and Southeast Asian (Theravada). There seems to be very little from the Chinese schools of Buddhism. Please let me know if I am wrong in this regard. Maybe if you can tell me what the distinct features of Western Buddhisms are, I can better tell you how Buddhism in Taiwanese differs.

2. In Taiwan, or Buddhism as practiced by Chinese culture in general would be heavily intermingled with the concepts and rituals from Taoism and Confucianism by most people, even self-proclaimed Buddhists. While major organizations do not encourage and actively discourage non-Buddhist rituals and beliefs, they are somewhat powerless to change it. Because few thousands of years of ingrained culture is hard to change. There are a lot of social and family pressure involved. (As a side note, I think the Taoism and Confucianism's influence were a great disservice to Buddhism.)

3. In addition to Humanistic Buddhism, many Buddhists in Taiwan subscribe to the Pure Land school.

4. Other than these major schools, there are a lot of smaller "temples" all over Taiwan. In general, these smaller temples might subscribe to one of the major Buddhism schools (e.g. Pure Land, Humanistic, Chinese Zen, Theravada....etc), but they all have their own emphasis or methods. So while it might be easier to find a teacher, and I am sure they would love a Westerner for a student (if communication is not an issue), I am not sure how it would work out in the long run. But it sure is diverse, or chaotic, depending on your point of view.

5. All the Buddhist organizations here all have a lot of activities, such as regular discussion sessions and classes for Dharma, chanting of Buddhists Texts, meditation retreat and so on. And maybe three or four times a year, every school will have some sort of major services that would probably attracts thousands of people, depending on their sizes.

6. 10 years ago, there are a lot more young people interested in Buddhism. Today, it seems like all young people want to do is to make a lot of money. But I would say that many older peoples are rather serious about it.

Lazy Eye
16 Nov 11, 12:19
Hi Yuan,

Thanks for taking the time to reply. I see that my questions were perhaps a little too broad!

I haven't been to Taiwan, though I have spent some time in mainland China. My general, and probably too simplistic, observation is that most people follow Pure Land, which is relatively unknown in the West. Also Buddhism in the West seems to be more secularized, and one is more likely to attend a dharma center or study group as opposed to a temple. In the Washington DC area where I live, a demarcation appears evident between temples which are for "ethnic Buddhists", and secular organizations/groups where you will mainly meet middle-class Caucasians.

Taiwanese friends here in the US have told me that folks back home practice a mixture of Buddhism and Taoism. Also, several Chinese teachers and organizations that I have encountered include a strong dose of Confucius along with the dharma. One group -- known for its many free publications and active outreach -- provides copies of the 弟子规 (Di Zi Gui, a set of rules and guidelines based on Confucius) for use in raising children. I'm guessing this kind of syncretism goes back to the earliest days of Buddhism in China.

Just out of curiosity, why do you see the Taoist and Confucian influence as negative?

You became interested in Buddhism after arriving in Taiwan, right? Are you practicing with a teacher there? Do Taiwanese friends express curiosity about your Buddhist practice, and is it interesting to them that an American would be following the dharma?

Yuan
16 Nov 11, 14:05
Hi Lazy,

Yes, it is clear to me now the destination of Buddhism practice differs between the West and Taiwan/Chinese. In the West, it seems to be all about finding spiritual calmness in the here and now. In the Chinese culture, it seems to be about either going to the pure land in after death, or accumulate good karma and save the world for Humanistic Buddhists, more about preparing for after death or next life.

I think Taoist and Confucian influences are negative because they made simple message of Buddhism convoluted. Witness the translation of sunyata. I am sure that back then, it was hard to find a good word to translate sunyata from Indian to Chinese. And after they translated it, they had a hard time explaining it, so they borrowed the concept of "Wu" (nothingness) from Tao. And today, many people still are attached to "emptiness." Sure, at some level, sunyata conjures a feeling of emptiness, but it then became the only implication for a lot of people, and Buddhism becomes passive and negative and nihilistic to most people.

Also, the translation of "Mūlamadhyamakakārikā" to "Fundamental Verses on the Middle Way" made Chinese think it's similar to Confucian book called "The Doctrine of the Mean" just because there is a "Middle" in both books (In Chinese it does.). "Mūlamadhyamakakārikā" uses dialectic to remove your pre-existing notions to show that sunyata is the truth. It has nothing to do with moderation or balance.

Not to mention all the rituals and worships that elevate Buddha and Bodhisattva to Gods. To me, if Buddha is a god, there is no reason to practice Buddhism.

Well, I am natively Taiwanese, so they won't know I am an American until I open my mouth. But there are some major differences. 1. I ask questions. Taiwanese people here tend not to. and 2. I ask pointed, direct questions. So even if Taiwanese practitioners ask questions, it tends to be cautious and beat around the bush sort of the way, and 3. I ask question one after another until I got an answer that I can understand. Virtually no one here does that.

soundtrack
16 Nov 11, 14:50
Well, I am natively Taiwanese, so they won't know I am an American until I open my mouth. But there are some major differences. 1. I ask questions. Taiwanese people here tend not to. and 2. I ask pointed, direct questions. So even if Taiwanese practitioners ask questions, it tends to be cautious and beat around the bush sort of the way, and 3. I ask question one after another until I got an answer that I can understand. Virtually no one here does that.
This is very interesting.

FBM
16 Nov 11, 23:25
Yuan, the situation in Taiwan seems to have a lot of close parallels with that here in Korea. Cultural traditions, Taoism and Confucianism seem to occupy as much (or more) of Buddhist practice than anything related to what the Buddha taught. And people also don't ask penetrating questions of the monks, either. I've had to learn how to get information indirectly, so as not to offend. It's tricky, eh?

Yuan
16 Nov 11, 23:48
Hi FBM,

It's more than tricky, its annoying. Sometimes, a teacher might withheld information to make you think, but you would usually know that. But who has the time to beat around the bush when enlightenment is at stake! ;)

They just think I am a "rude" American.

Of course, it is not to say that there are no people practicing Buddhism here. There are, but it just takes sometime to figure it out.

FBM
16 Nov 11, 23:57
Hi FBM,

It's more than tricky, its annoying. Sometimes, a teacher might withheld information to make you think, but you would usually know that. But who has the time to beat around the bush when enlightenment is at stake! ;)

:up2: I want to say to them, "Get to the point, man!"


They just think I am a "rude" American.

Of course, it is not to say that there are no people practicing Buddhism here. There are, but it just takes sometime to figure it out.

One monk got irritated at me when I referred to the Kalama Sutta in order to point out the error in adhering to Korean traditional practices just because of tradition. These days, I mostly keep my pointed questions to myself, or re-word them. For example, I might ask, 'So this is done just because of tradition? It's not taught in the sutras?' ;)

There are some serious practitioners here, too, but they tend to keep a low profile, so it's harder to find them.

Lazy Eye
18 Nov 11, 13:56
Yes, it is clear to me now the destination of Buddhism practice differs between the West and Taiwan/Chinese. In the West, it seems to be all about finding spiritual calmness in the here and now. In the Chinese culture, it seems to be about either going to the pure land in after death, or accumulate good karma and save the world for Humanistic Buddhists, more about preparing for after death or next life.

How do you identify your own goals with relationship to these two models, if you don't mind me asking? Do you lean towards one or the other, or neither?


I think Taoist and Confucian influences are negative because they made simple message of Buddhism convoluted. Witness the translation of sunyata. I am sure that back then, it was hard to find a good word to translate sunyata from Indian to Chinese. And after they translated it, they had a hard time explaining it, so they borrowed the concept of "Wu" (nothingness) from Tao. And today, many people still are attached to "emptiness." Sure, at some level, sunyata conjures a feeling of emptiness, but it then became the only implication for a lot of people, and Buddhism becomes passive and negative and nihilistic to most people.

I think this may be why Thich Nhat Hanh (who basically belongs to the Humanistic tradition) reframed sunyata as "interbeing". What do you think of that approach?


Also, the translation of "Mūlamadhyamakakārikā" to "Fundamental Verses on the Middle Way" made Chinese think it's similar to Confucian book called "The Doctrine of the Mean" just because there is a "Middle" in both books (In Chinese it does.). "Mūlamadhyamakakārikā" uses dialectic to remove your pre-existing notions to show that sunyata is the truth. It has nothing to do with moderation or balance.

That's true with regard to Nagarjuna, but "Middle Way" in the nikayas does have something to do with moderation, wouldn't you say? That is, the Buddha rejected extreme asceticism and indulgence, and he also sought a way between eternalism and nihilism.


Not to mention all the rituals and worships that elevate Buddha and Bodhisattva to Gods. To me, if Buddha is a god, there is no reason to practice Buddhism.

Does Pure Land do this in your opinion? Amida has certain attributes which could be seen as those of a deity. Is there a way to practice Pure Land without this happening?

Yuan
19 Nov 11, 02:18
Hi Lazy,


How do you identify your own goals with relationship to these two models, if you don't mind me asking? Do you lean towards one or the other, or neither?

You had a feeling that I would say neither, right? I practice Buddhism not for the peace of mind, not for heaven or hell, and not to better my next life. I practice Buddhism to see the Truth that Buddha saw. The Truth of Human Nature. To me, liberate from suffering, peace of mind, etc. are all just the side effects of search for the Truth. Just like scientists' search for the Truth of the physical world, and in the process, many theories are created, and from those theories, many inventions are produced that changed our material life, mostly for the better. I believe that search for the Truth about human nature will do the same for me.



I think this may be why Thich Nhat Hanh (who basically belongs to the Humanistic tradition) reframed sunyata as "interbeing". What do you think of that approach?

I don't really want to comment on other schools and approaches, especially since he is not here to address any misrepresentations that I might produce. But first time I saw "interbeing" I read it as "inter" "being", with "being" as "a living thing," so I thought, incorrectly, that "interbeing" was some kind of an E.T. After some researches, I now understand what he meant by "interbeing". So I don't understand why he felt it is necessary to create another word when sunyata is perfectly suitable in English usage. Sunyata does not have any baggage associated with it, and it can be easily sounded.

But sunyata was simply explained in a verse in Mūlamadhyamakakārikā.
"Existences according to The Law of Nidānas / I said is sunyata." (My translation from Chinese version. Might differ than other English translations.)



That's true with regard to Nagarjuna, but "Middle Way" in the nikayas does have something to do with moderation, wouldn't you say? That is, the Buddha rejected extreme asceticism and indulgence, and he also sought a way between eternalism and nihilism.

This is what I meant. The problem of words. If the entire spectrum of practices can be defined by a segment, with extreme asceticism on the extreme left, and indulgence on the extreme right. Is Buddhism in the precise middle? or is it just in between? But I guess "In Between Way" does not sound as cool as "Middle way".

But what if the spectrum of practices can not be described by a segment, but by a two dimensional plane. Extreme asceticism is one point on the plane, and indulgence is another point. Buddha's method is a third point. Then where is the middle in this?

Plus, maybe there is no spectrum in the first place. Different methods are just different paths to different places. There is no need to assign it a "label".



Does Pure Land do this in your opinion? Amida has certain attributes which could be seen as those of a deity. Is there a way to practice Pure Land without this happening?


Well, the basic Practice of Pure Land is very simply stated.



(Copyied from http://online.sfsu.edu/~rone/Buddhism/amitabha.htm)
Sariputra, if there is a good man or good woman who hears spoken 'Amitabha Buddha' and holds the name, whether for one day, two days, three, four, five days, six days, as long as seven days, with one heart unconfused, when this person approaches the end of life, before him will appear Amitabha Buddha and all the assembly of Holy Ones.

In effect, it is similar to most mindfulness or meditation methods that most Westerners are practicing today. The differences is that instead of trying to be mindful of your thoughts, or try to empty your mind, or whatever else they want you to do with your mind, In Pure Land, you focus on the name of 'Amitabha Buddha' in your meditation and nothing else.

Lazy Eye
23 Nov 11, 02:36
You had a feeling that I would say neither, right? I practice Buddhism not for the peace of mind, not for heaven or hell, and not to better my next life.

I had a hunch... Or, perhaps I should say that the two alternatives you gave both seemed unsatisfactory somehow.


I don't really want to comment on other schools and approaches, especially since he is not here to address any misrepresentations that I might produce. But first time I saw "interbeing" I read it as "inter" "being", with "being" as "a living thing," so I thought, incorrectly, that "interbeing" was some kind of an E.T. After some researches, I now understand what he meant by "interbeing". So I don't understand why he felt it is necessary to create another word when sunyata is perfectly suitable in English usage. Sunyata does not have any baggage associated with it, and it can be easily sounded.

Ha! Yes, admittedly "interbeing" has a sort of galactic ring to it. I'm not all that fond of the phrase, personally, but it's doubtful I'll get the chance to ask TNH why he coined it. I can think of two possible reasons, though. One, of course, is that he considers it skillful means for his intended audience. The other is to find a positive language with which to speak of sunyata. Sunyata has both a positive and negative side, and there is a tendency for people to confuse it with nihilism. So he may have wanted a term that provides a counterbalance to that.


In effect, it is similar to most mindfulness or meditation methods that most Westerners are practicing today. The differences is that instead of trying to be mindful of your thoughts, or try to empty your mind, or whatever else they want you to do with your mind, In Pure Land, you focus on the name of 'Amitabha Buddha' in your meditation and nothing else.

That makes sense. But what are the benefits of choosing this as a meditation focus, as opposed to something else?

Yuan
23 Nov 11, 03:13
That makes sense. But what are the benefits of choosing this as a meditation focus, as opposed to something else?

Well, for the Chinese Pure Land school, the benefits is that when you die, Amitābha Buddha will come and bring you to the Pure Land, instead of rebirth(reincarnation) back to this realm, and you can study sutra and practice and become a Buddha in that Land. So it takes an ordinary person 2 lifetimes to become a Buddha, instead of the large number that are often mentioned in Buddhist Texts.

I don't think other school's meditation focus promise any of such thing.

If you are asking about the here and now, the benefits of meditation, I would say its all the same. It is not easy to focus on only one thing for a long time. My guess is that if you can focus only on the name of Amitābha Buddha for seven days, you can probably focus only on anything else for 7 days as well. Converse is probably true as well.

To me, what this is implying is that getting really really good at meditation is not going to get you to become Buddha. At least this is what I think Amitabha Sutra is saying.

Note: I am not an expert in any of these, just sharing my knowledge, however meager.

tjampel
27 Nov 11, 22:35
Hi Yuan;

I'll be in Taiwan in late Jan with my Taiwanese business partner to spend Chinese New Years with his family. It's my 10th or so time there (I've lost count). As you've pointed out, I notice that most Taiwanese don't generally do anything resembling a pure Buddhist practice. They do Tao-Buddhist rituals which involve Buddhist figures, such as Kuan Yin, along with propitiation of wealth, fertility and just about every other type of "god" imaginable for virtually every samsaric goal under the sun. A trip to any one of their traditional temples (as opposed to a Buddhist one) reveals a plethora of common and special local gods and goddesses hungry for offerings, I suppose, since they're quite well fed. The crush of people around these temples on New Years day wanting to be one of the first ones to throw their incense sticks into the big burning pot can be a little scary, in fact (though Taiwanese are generally well mannered, except when debating bills in their legislature---then look out!). My experiences may be quite skewed due to the fact that I generally travel to Taiwan around New Years. Are there other days where Buddhist temples are full?

There are always exceptions to the above. My partner's sister does a daily Buddhist practice and I know there are a multitude of elaborate Buddhist temples throughout Taiwan that get considerable traffic, though much of that may be from Taiwanese bus tours rather than from hardcore practitioners. So, there's clearly still an interest in Buddhist artifacts, structures, bodhisattvas, and the like, even a genuine interest in vegetarianism (there are lots of great veggie restaurants in Taipei, at least), and a TV station that's all-Buddhist all the time; however, the focus seems to be quite pragmatic, and mainly related to short-term samsaric advancement (wanting my kid to get into a good university or enjoy a long healthy life, or having a successful business, especially---just hang out in front of a business on New Years and watch all that paper money being burnt.

I do notice a really huge upsurge amongst young people in the practice of yoga. I am wondering if Buddhist institutions are currently offering yoga or other popular pursuits to lure them in. Of course there are always ramifications from this and they're not always positive. One of the dharma centers I go to has made great efforts to offer a variety of yoga classes; they've brought a good number of people in this way; however, many don't really approach Buddhist from the same direction as the non-yoga crowd. On the other hand it's a much more interesting (and, btw, multicultural) mix now, and some of these yoga people are studying teachings and doing a regular meditation practice with a teacher that I think is qualified to teach it.

So maybe Taiwanese temples should consider toga, martial arts, perhaps, and other means of outreach if they haven't already---e.g., environmental projects, hiking, biking, etc. Taiwan is such a beautiful country and there is an environmental consciousness that's evolving there that's great to see as well. Or..maybe they're doing this. Perhaps you can respond to these questions, specifically, what are the Taiwanese Buddhist institutions doing to attract people these days and is it succeeding?

Thanks

tj

Yuan
28 Nov 11, 01:42
Hi TJ!

I know that all the major schools, such as Tzu Chi, Foguan Shan etc, all do the best they can to differentiate between Buddhism practices and others. But most people, even self-avowed Buddhists, feel free to perform many semi-religious activities (such as fortune telling, praying to some deities for something...etc) that are discouraged by their Buddhist teachers. But really, it is part of the Chinese/Taiwanese culture, and this shows one of the great aspect of Buddhism, tolerance toward other religions and belief systems.

Many popular temples are really tourist destinations, they are not really places to practice Buddhism. Many smaller to mid-size temples do mix Tao, Buddhism and local deities together and as a Buddhist, it is probably best to avoid them all together. These temples all cater to local demands.

But there are also many smaller temples that practice very orthodox Buddhism, and they are quiet popular as well. There is a particular one in Kaohsiung, whose atmosphere I really enjoy. It is serene and quiet. One day, I was just going there to clear my mind, I found that it was packed with followers. Why? It was a day for Buddhism classes. I also found people doing walking meditation there constantly.

The other times that temples are packed are when they do "services." These happens few times a year, I think.

So Buddhism in Taiwan is like going to a department store, you can find all sort of fashions and flavors here.

I am actually learning Yoga myself with Tzu Chi's continuing education classes. My wife has been involved with Tzu Chi for about 15 years (starting as a college student). My interest with Yoga has nothing to do with Buddhism. Yoga is yoga, Buddhism is Buddhism. But at the end of the class, the instructor will always discuss a Jing Si aphorism from Dharma Master Cheng Yen as a way to lead people to Buddhism (At least Tzu Chi's flavor.)

I have only lived in Taiwan for the past year, so I am not sure how their efforts compare to before my arrival. My wife did say that Buddhism was very popular among the college aged students 10 years ago and not as popular now. I know all the things that you have mention and more have been done before. But, Buddhism and the concept of Buddhism (whether understood correctly or not) are so prevalent here, that any one who wants to practice Buddhism can find a place to go and learn. I don't really see heavy-handed approach to attract people.

It's like Christianity in the U.S.. It is not really about spreading Christianity, because everyone knows what it is, but more about attracting followers for a specific Church.

BTW, Fo Guan Shan opened their Buddha Memorial Center in Kaohsiung, if you have a chance, you might want to visit. I passed it on the high way yesterday and the Buddha looked very dramatic from a distance. Here is a link: http://www.fgs.org.tw/BMC/index01.html (unfortunately, it is mostly Chinese for now.)

tjampel
28 Nov 11, 05:26
Hi Yuan;

Thanks so much for taking the time to respond to my post. What you say is pretty much what I've experienced in Taiwan and perhaps it's a reason why I have avoided Buddhist temples when I'm there. The Taoist ones...the neighborhood temples, generally, are fun around New Years; yet what happens there doesn't seem to follow Buddhist principles (all those different gods and goddesses and mundane reasons for propitiating them). And many larger purely Buddhist ones (as you say) seem to have been built more as showpieces than places to practice.

I'm happy to hear that there more serious centers that may be called "dharma" centers , and that one may find classes filled with interested students/practitioners. It's sort of ironic that, when I'm in Taiwan I generally visit temples but I do when in Thailand (even though they also are heavily visited by tourists), for example. Somehow, I feel that, when I'm in a Thai Wat I can actually sit down and meditate a bit and it might even seem normal to others--they seem like places to actually practice, for some reason. Is there a Temple in Taipei or Taichung, for example, where I might do that without being conspicuous (I'm a Westerner with few language resources)?
I've actually done a short (5 day) retreat in Taiwan but in a private apartment, rather than a temple. Do temples facilitate retreats as well? I've heard that there's one Tibetan temple that does.

I know that there's absolutely nothing "exotic" about Buddhism in Taiwan to make it exciting to younger Taiwanese; however I'd think that the work of Tzu Chi as you've also pointed out, might be something that attracts those who are concerned with environmental degradation, poverty, health care, disaster relief, etc. Well, I hope that young Taiwanese are not becoming too materialistic. I certainly know what it's like to live in an uber materialistic society (the USA).

BTW, Hatha yoga is clearly described by the person credited with originating or at least creating a coherent system of it---Swatarama---as being a means for achieving meditation. Swatarama states that "the purpose of Hatha Yoga is to get to Raja Yoga", which is meditative absorption. Therefore I do believe that it has a definite place within the practice of Buddhism, for those who may benefit from such an "outer" method. Anything that makes it easier to reach a meditative state (and is not harmful to the body!) is worth trying.

Interesting architecture :-) at the Memorial Center. I was in Kaohsiung last year but not really long enough to visit a temple...mainly passing through on way to Kenting.

Lazy Eye
29 Nov 11, 05:13
I wonder if affluence and modernization in Taiwan may paradoxically lead to a resurgence of interest in Buddhism at some point. Looking back, we can see that interest in the dharma was strong during some of the peak moments of Chinese history...e.g. Tang and Song dynasties, and it had the support of the intellectual class as well as some within the political elites.

People living amid relative prosperity are in a position to see the ultimate vacuousness of material life, and at the same time their energies are not consumed with the struggle to get by. When society becomes busy and full of proliferations, so too increases the desire for peace. There were some news reports a couple years ago about temple visits and short retreats becoming popular for stressed-out professional people in mainland China, so I wonder if something similar can be seen in Taiwan as well.

Yuan
29 Nov 11, 12:59
Hi TJ,

I asked around about temples that you might be able to visit in Taipei and Taichung where you can meditate. No luck so far, since I am based in Kaohsiung at the moment. If I find anything, I'll let you know.

But I do know that Fo Guan Shan has different retreats (one-day, 3 days, 5 days...etc) that anyone can attend, but again, it is in Kaohsiung. I am sure that temples in Taichung and Taipei have them, I just don't know where they might be yet, some of them might actually be in the mountains.

However, I would say that a non-asian people sitting in a temple meditating will attract attentions in Taiwan. That's just the way it is. But if you are in the right place, no one will bother you. You probably just have to ask the people there for permission first.

I don't know what school you practice. But there seems to be some misgivings in Taiwan toward certain sects of Tibetan schools (I think one of them is Black Sect Tantric Buddhism).

Also, the yoga that is popular in Taiwan seems to be purely exercise and fitness related.

Yuan
29 Nov 11, 13:10
Hi Lazy,

I think that the recent resurgence of Buddhism in Taiwan probably had something to do with the rise of Humanistic Buddhism as well. Organizations like Tzu Chi gave young people something to do, a sense of purpose in this lifetime. I know my wife joined Tzu Chi when she was in college because she wanted to do something different. She wanted to contribute to the society. So for them, Buddhism was no longer about boring chantings and rituals, and not about percepts and virtues. It was about doing something, right now.

I am sure the prosperity has a lot to do with it as well. The currently decline in youths' interest with Buddhism probably has a lot to do with financial struggles that most people are having. (The 1% vs 99% issue). Young people in Taiwan are becoming very materialistic again; they wanted the "good life" that they used to have before financial crisis, but finds it harder and harder to achieve.

Lazy Eye
29 Nov 11, 22:29
I think that the recent resurgence of Buddhism in Taiwan probably had something to do with the rise of Humanistic Buddhism as well. Organizations like Tzu Chi gave young people something to do, a sense of purpose in this lifetime. I know my wife joined Tzu Chi when she was in college because she wanted to do something different. She wanted to contribute to the society. So for them, Buddhism was no longer about boring chantings and rituals, and not about percepts and virtues. It was about doing something, right now.

I have to say that I find this very appealing myself. ;D Wonder if Tzu Chi and the other organizations can manage to stay current and attract young people in the future. Although you mention that the new generation is more materialistic, these trends tend to cycle back and forth as you know.

Also wonder to what extent this movement is attracting a following in mainland China as well as other parts of East Asia. During my visits to China what I mainly observed was a growing interest in Tibetan Buddhism, in part because of support from famous stars such as Faye Wong and Jet Li. But I can't say I got anything more than a superficial picture of the situation. It will be interesting to see how things develop. I guess there is pressure from evangelical Christanity to consider also.

Yuan
30 Nov 11, 01:44
Tzu Chi did an interesting service recently. It was a musical performance based on Water Repentance Sutra. It was impressive. It was done for 2 reasons, one is to raise money for their TV station. The other is because Master Cheng Yen wish people can repent and reverse the current trend of environmental and natural disasters. Here is a synopsis of the performance (http://tw.tzuchi.org/en/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=866&Itemid=328&lang=en) and an youtube link to it (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NNDoWClzs0A). Unfortunately, the performance in in Chinese.

My wife was in the performance (Performers were all volunteers and they all practiced for about 6 months) and I attended the performance in Kaohsiung. I can say that it was very powerful, I mean, when 2012 people are bowing at you at the same time asking you to repent, how do you say no?

But hopefully, things like this can help them stay current.

Lazy Eye
04 Dec 11, 06:54
Thank you for posting this, Yuan. It's powerful to watch -- especially (for me) the skits. Since I'm pretty deeply enmeshed in business life these days, some of it struck close to home!

How long has your wife been involved with Tzu Chi? Has she found it has met her expectations? I remember you said earlier that your found the "humanistic Buddhism" approach can be a distraction from dharma practice...though from a Zen sort of approach maybe it could be described as another form of practice.

Yuan
04 Dec 11, 13:11
Hi Lazy,

My wife has been with Tzu Chi for about 15 years. She was a Tzu Ching (member of Tzu Chi college association.) when she was in college, and after college, she was leading Tzu Ching for a while. But she has never taken the vow of a Tzu Chi Commissioner, and I want to make this point clear. Most of her friends are involved with Tzu Chi in one form or another. And she still participates in various Tzu Chi activities.

Anyway, she really like the work Tzu Chi is doing. But like most large organizations, you are going to have your "bad seeds." She mentioned that while working on Tzu Chi projects, she sometimes come to think that everyone is a "human Bodhisattva," but only to be shattered later by the behaviors of one member or another.

People here talked about "unconditional love", and you know, I see that in Tzu Chi people all the time (at least on the observable appearance.)

But as Tzu Chi grew, she does feel that she sees less and less Dharma. But you know, that is to be expected. It is hard to maintain "quality" given the sheer number of people involved. So she felt that there should be more teaching of Dharma. The Water Repentance service, while powerful, is about as simple of a Dharma as you can get in Buddhism. It is really about repentance and "sin" (bad karma), to me, not much different than Christian teachings on the most basic level.

But she also told stories of many people in Tzu Chi, who came to understand about various part of Dharma doing Tzu Chi projects, while working on recycling, as volunteers to take care of the needy and the sick and so on.

So my conclusion is that like everything, it all come down to the individuals, whether they are receptive to the Dharma.

But sitting in one place and contemplating about Sunyata is not high on their list of things to do. If they are going to learn about Dharma, it's going to be from doing, listening to Master Cheng Yen's teachings, going to weekly reading discussions on Water Repentance and reading of Buddhist Texts on their own if they are interested.

My wife told me that only their Bhikkhunis do any sort of meditation, and they have a monthly service/reading/chanting of the Lotus sutra.

tjampel
04 Dec 11, 17:01
Hi Lazy,

My wife has been with Tzu Chi for about 15 years. She was a Tzu Ching (member of Tzu Chi college association.) when she was in college, and after college, she was leading Tzu Ching for a while. But she has never taken the vow of a Tzu Chi Commissioner, and I want to make this point clear. Most of her friends are involved with Tzu Chi in one form or another. And she still participates in various Tzu Chi activities.

Anyway, she really like the work Tzu Chi is doing. But like most large organizations, you are going to have your "bad seeds." She mentioned that while working on Tzu Chi projects, she sometimes come to think that everyone is a "human Bodhisattva," but only to be shattered later by the behaviors of one member or another.

People here talked about "unconditional love", and you know, I see that in Tzu Chi people all the time (at least on the observable appearance.)

But as Tzu Chi grew, she does feel that she sees less and less Dharma. But you know, that is to be expected. It is hard to maintain "quality" given the sheer number of people involved. So she felt that there should be more teaching of Dharma. The Water Repentance service, while powerful, is about as simple of a Dharma as you can get in Buddhism. It is really about repentance and "sin" (bad karma), to me, not much different than Christian teachings on the most basic level.

But she also told stories of many people in Tzu Chi, who came to understand about various part of Dharma doing Tzu Chi projects, while working on recycling, as volunteers to take care of the needy and the sick and so on.

So my conclusion is that like everything, it all come down to the individuals, whether they are receptive to the Dharma.

But sitting in one place and contemplating about Sunyata is not high on their list of things to do. If they are going to learn about Dharma, it's going to be from doing, listening to Master Cheng Yen's teachings, going to weekly reading discussions on Water Repentance and reading of Buddhist Texts on their own if they are interested.

My wife told me that only their Bhikkhunis do any sort of meditation, and they have a monthly service/reading/chanting of the Lotus sutra.

Hi Yuan;

Thank you so much for all your wonderful posts. I feel that I have a greater understanding of the state of Buddhism in Taiwan now. In this degenerate age getting to a point where the dharma is more than just inspirational, to where it's actually seen as "life saving"---to where it becomes the main pursuit in one's existence, is very tough, especially for young people living under severe economic pressure. So, if serving others, if working towards a survivable planet are what attracts them now, this is far better than if they just follow self-seeking, self-indulgent behaviors. Serving others connects us to others and starts the process of destroying the wall of separation between "mine" and "yours", me and you. It weakens ego, grasping, the 8 worldly thoughts and a whole host of other unskillful behaviors. Wise teachers, I was once told, see students kind of like ants; they hold a stick (teachings appropriate to each student) and what they are able to do is to slowly redirect the movement of the student/ants with the stick until, eventually they climb the tree where the nectar of enlightenment resides. Slow process but, eventually it gets us all to the place we need to be.

Yuan
05 Dec 11, 02:19
Wise teachers, I was once told, see students kind of like ants; they hold a stick (teachings appropriate to each student) and what they are able to do is to slowly redirect the movement of the student/ants with the stick until, eventually they climb the tree where the nectar of enlightenment resides.

Herding cats is more like it. But very well said. A very positive view on the state of Buddhism in Taiwan. :hands: