Yesterday, I posted a link at the Average Buddhist Facebook Community to a USA Today article about Han Chinese who are turning to Tibetan Buddhism as a spiritual practice. Some seekers are becoming involved to the extent that they are giving up their jobs and their homes and moving to a monastery in Tibet.
The most obvious irony, of course, is the fact that the very population that overtook Tibet is now turning to its culture for its own salvation. My other observation, however, is the one sticking with me today. Some of the Tibetan monastics are having an overtly negative response to the new converts. In one instance, the article referenced a nun who intentionally sneezed on a Han monastic’s head to insult her.
From a prosaic mindspace, we might say “Of course Tibetan nuns resent the presence of Han Chinese in their living quarters. The Chinese deprived them of their country.” I could agree, except that they are, well…Buddhist nuns. I mean, these are women who have dedicated their lives to transcending human pettiness. Yet here we are.
Human nature is full of such contradiction though. Amazingly, a person who commits herself to decades of practice and ritual to rid herself of craving, attachment and the other concomitant desirous states of the human condition, can maintain a self-righteous attitude toward other seekers because of their ethnicity and citizenship. Paradoxically, we humans can seek enlightenment, while maintaining attachment to resentment. That’s a phenomenal trick, isn’t it? Progressing in Buddhist practice, we are told, is supposed to lead to the ability to move beyond material insult and injury. Yet, it would appear the journey is not linear.
There are Buddhist hardliners who denigrate the Buddhist laity and insinuate that practitioners who are not dour ascetics are posers. I can’t help but feel this in itself is indefensible attachment. I want to make sure I’m conceptualizing the practice of Buddhism “right” as much as the next person, but at what cost? The loss of compassion? I refuse to pay that price.
I do understand why those Tibetan nuns have a problem with Han practitioners. At the same time, I hope they will recognize the opportunity they have been given to advance their practice. With that insight, their real work can begin. Is my wish for them in this regard just another paradox?
Achieving enlightenment is an ongoing project and we cannot assume it to be a certainty. There is no room for high horses and I’m-such-a-better-Buddhist-than-you rhetoric in the context of our frailty and interconnectedness. The more frequently we can be humbled by these reminders, the better.
Now buy the Book!