The Dhamma in China Part 3

In the last couple of posts about the Dhamma in China here and here, I talked about temples that I visited and monks that I had the chance to speak with. In this post I wanted to tell you a bit about some Chinese I spoke with about their thoughts on Buddhism. As I mentioned before, almost all of the customers for the local temples are older women there to pray for a better rebirth, a successful surgery, or good marks for the grandkids GaoKao (the Chinese equivalent to the SAT). But lately

I’ve had the chance to talk to some educated folks that have thought quite a bit about Buddhism in China. A high school principal, a businessman, a policeman. Here are some observations:

  • They are every bit as horrified as I was by the folk temples. They know that they are mostly just there to divide grandmothers from their money.
  • But they also know there is something more, a Buddhism that is based on purifying the mind rather than begging for a better rebirth.
  • One man said to me, “Buddhism is about just letting go. Letting go of desires, letting go of the busy-ness of life, letting go of everything that isn’t essential.”
  • There is zero interest in meditation. That is for monks.
  • There is tremendous respect for the Buddhism of Taiwan. Sri Lanka and the other Theravadan countries are seen as undeveloped. Japan is politically problematic. Taiwan is just right.
  • There is a certain amount of respect for the person of the Dalai Lama himself, but the consensus is that he is surrounded by power-hungry sycophants who manipulate him because they want his job. This view doesn’t seem all that coherent, but it does reflect some of the flavor of East Coast Chinese about Tibet.
  • I was strongly warned to avoid Falun Gong. It is fake Buddhism! It is a political front hiding behind the dhamma! I don’t know much about Falun Gong, but it does point out something important about China. Most people most of the time have tremendous personal freedom. You can move where you want, worship how you want, do business, and have strong opinions. But one thing you absolutely positively cannot do is organize politically. This is the deal you have with the state. You can do what you want if you stay well away from politics.
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