“A huge gap exists between the discourse on Buddhism and the practices of Buddhist teachers, especially Tibetans”

Marion Dapsance, doctor in anthropology, published in 2016 a book entitled Devotees of Buddhism (Max Milo), field survey on the “reinventing the practice of meditation” in Tibetan Buddhist centers present in France, Europe and the United States.

The work shows how the students of certain centers are gradually led to adhere not only to the traditional practices of Tibetan Buddhism, which include devotion to the master, esoteric rituals, belief in divinities and demons, but also sometimes to undergo certain mystifying and authoritarian from unethical teachers. Humiliations, beatings, cult of personality…

The abuses recounted in the study had, at the time, aroused innumerable reactions, somewhat disturbing the image that one could have of Buddhism in the West. Marion Dapsance completed her work in 2018 with the publication of a more general work on Buddhism in the West: What have they done with Buddhism? (Bayard).

According to the researcher, the broadcast this week on Arte of the documentary Buddhism, the law of silence, “helps to face things”in line with its investigation.

How did you come to be interested in Buddhism?

Like most Westerners, I discovered Buddhism through books. It is a peculiarity of what some researchers have called modern Buddhism, that is to say Buddhism as it has been reimagined in the West from the 19e century. This bookish aspect of Buddhism is indeed a recent and typically Western phenomenon.

The vast majority of Asian Buddhists – at least until recently – have no bookish relationship to their religion. They discover it through cultural and family impregnation, and their practice is often limited to the recitation of a few prayers, donations in favor of the clergy and the veneration of relics, with the aim of purifying their karma.

Read also: “Buddhism, the law of silence”, on Arte: a backward look at the philosophy conveyed by the Dalai Lama

The works of Buddhist philosophy or wisdom that we have had for a century and a half in the West are for the most part reinventions based on a Christian model from which we claim to be distinguished. We present some of its seductive doctrines, but we forget to mention its ritual and devotional practices which would unfortunately recall “religion”, that is to say in fact Christianity, from which converts often come, and which they set up in counter-model.

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“A huge gap exists between the discourse on Buddhism and the practices of Buddhist teachers, especially Tibetans”