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The Authoritative Rod Dreher

July 15, 2010

I am in the early stages of writing a book on Buddhism in the West. On the advice of several professors, I have been plodding through such weighty tomes as Rick Fields’ How the Swans Came to the Lake and Lawrence Sutin’s All is Change in order to gain a general picture of William Jones and the Asiatic Society, the Theosophic movement, the influence of Zen Buddhism on beat poetry, and the Vajrayana path as taught by Trungpa Rinpoche.

But why go digging through library archives, when I can simply pop open my laptop and read the blog of Rod Dreher? Here is a sample of the kind of learned reflections I have come to expect from that consummate Orientalist:

Some time ago, I read something, can’t remember where, about Tibetan Buddhism. The author may have been a scholar of Tibetan Buddhism; I just don’t recall. Anyway, the writer said that in the West, we have a completely romanticized view of Tibetan Buddhism, one that ignores the dark and violent side of the tradition. If memory serves, this writer wasn’t putting Tibetan Buddhism down, only saying that there’s a lot more to it than people in the West think, and that if they saw the entire thing, instead of only what they wanted to see, they’d be a lot more troubled by it. I’m in no position to say whether this person was right or wrong, but I do know that all of us have a tendency toward confirmation bias, and toward filtering out information that challenges narratives we prefer to believe. That’s human nature.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. July 16, 2010 9:02 pm

    Nice quote. It’s spot on of course. But substitute Socialism, or FDR for Tibetan Buddhism and now we are talking!

  2. innocentsmithjournal permalink*
    July 17, 2010 12:58 pm

    Note, however, the utter vagueness of Dreher’s remarks. That is more to the point.

  3. catullus permalink
    July 20, 2010 1:43 pm

    You don’t need to go Lhasa, I can tell you that much. Just a trip to Dharamsala or even knowing folks from Asia (my mother was Korean) would humanize Tibetans for the benign Orientalist in the West. But it’s beyond Dreher to know this. He just wants to besmirch Buddhism because it isn’t Christianity. Far more cogent is Slavoj Zizek’s observation that adapting the Dalai Lama as you guru (or even just thumbing through a copy of “The Art of Happiness”) gives you all the “street-cred” of Eastern spirituality without actually having to do anything.

  4. innocentsmithjournal permalink*
    July 20, 2010 5:07 pm

    I think you’re on to something, catullus. We in the West tend to gravitate toward one of two poles with respect to Buddhism: our secularists often romanticize it, while our religious conservatives belittle it as mere nihilistic atheism. It’s a shame, really.

  5. catullus permalink
    July 21, 2010 4:49 pm

    Yeah, what is it with this trope that atheism is nihilism?

  6. Houghton permalink
    August 26, 2010 12:12 pm

    As someone who was once a disciplined practitioner of Vipassana meditation and is no longer, I now wholeheartedly belittle Buddhism as nihilistic atheism — because that’s what it is. No shame in that. Just intellectual honesty.

  7. Innocent Smith permalink
    August 26, 2010 9:36 pm

    Houghton, Buddhism certainly is atheistic. But the “middle way” of the Buddha is, as I understand, a rejection of nihilism and eternalism alike. The view that nothing exists misses the point, as does the view that things have unchanging essences. Things exist in an interdependent web, Buddhism teaches.


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