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Thread: Building the Sangha or Proselytising?

  1. #1

    Building the Sangha or Proselytising?

    This past friday, at our meditation group, after our sitting, we had a free-all discussion. One of the topics we touched upon was outreach. How does one approach the issue of letting know the community about a meditation group. We talked about our new web page, flordenopalsangha.blogspot.com. Was this fine to building a community or was this.....(shhhh...not so loud).....proselytising? We all viewed this was fine. How about putting flyers up in coffeshops, libraries, etc? This proved to be more murkier. Most of us didn't see it as a problem, but some remembered that on other sanghas this was frowned upon.

    Coincidentally enough, on Saturday, I came upon this article while researching on Buddhism and race in the US: "Born in the USA: Racial Diversity in Soka Gakkai International" by Clark Strand (Tricycle Magazine, Winter 2003). Though I found Strand's commentary/take on the particular growth of SGI in African-American communities vs. Zen/Vajrayana interesting, IMHO, he does not give more weight to one factor to that growth: SGI proselytizes (shakabuku?). To my limited knowledge in the US, most other Buddhist centers don't do it to the level of SGI.

    After reading the article, I had a couple of questions:

    * What do we consider a healthy approach to building sangha vs. the P-word?
    * Not knowing enough about the religious culture in Japan, what is the history on this issue in that country?
    * What is our experience in this coutry vis a vis Buddhism or, specifically, Zen Buddhism?

  2. #2

    Re: Building the Sangha or Proselytising?

    For what it's worth, I think posting zazen times on a board at a cafe or coop is not proselitism (unless, of course, a well-meaning sentient being suggests in the flyer that stuff such as relaxation, happiness, enlightenment, etc is to be expected). I found a sangha I'm sitting with precisely that way, and I'm grateful they posted the info. The thing is, you're not trying to convince anybody of anything. You are just informing it's there for anybody interested, and that is a good thing.

    Proselitism would be a funny thing. How do you promote a useless, confusing practice? But if anybody is looking, or curious, or saw a book or heard a comment and wants to try it would be nice for them not to struggle too much in finding a group.

    Buena suerte con los nopales

  3. #3

    Re: Building the Sangha or Proselytising?

    Hi,

    Good questions. I think the policy of most Zen Centers in the West has been rather the same as at Treeleaf:

    Put the information out there to reach anyone who might need to know and who would benefit from the information, but do not chase folks in ... and, also, we don't chase folks who step away.

    Some Zen groups are more 'pro-active' in seeking to attract folks, with speaking engagements, travel tours, books and articles, and special events. That is not necessarily bad at all, if it gets people involved who would benefit from Zen Practice.

    The Soka Gakkai is really a special case. Both in Japan and the West, it is much more like a Christian "mega-church" in its philosophy and outlook, and the similarities to other evangelical faiths is striking. Again, I do not pass judgment if that is what its members need. The article you mention, Erik, is a fascinating read (Another special case is those Buddhist "parishes" that cater to Asian families, already Buddhist, living in the West. They may not seek membership much at all outside the communities they serve).

    Gassho, Jundo

  4. #4

    Re: Building the Sangha or Proselytising?

    Hello Folks,

    this is a favourite topic of mine, which is exactly why I am not going to give in to the temptation to write loads and loads and loads of stuff. Let me just say that I've had some rather negative experiences with Soka Gakkai in the past. Back in the days when I was attending the "Buddhist Group" at my old university, the japanese woman who ran the group was clearly a) very nice and sincere and b) didn't know an awful lot about buddhism in general other than what she had previously read in President Ikeda's book. She basically set up this group to promote Soka Gakkai and chant Namu Myoho Renge Kyo....the more neutral name "Buddhist group" was simply meant to attract people to this kind of teaching. She was no evil koolaid groupie, not by a long shot, quite the contrary, but my cult-o-meter definitely went into "alert mode" a few times for good reason.

    I personally like publications like "Buddhism for Dummies" that manage to kinda balance the viewpoints of different schools without falling into the "X is better than Y" trap, because they give people the opportunity to make up their own minds, once they've been given some rather neutral facts.

    No one should be bullied into approaching the dharma, yet it is important to make it as freely available as possible, since a whole lot of other religious cultures would like to wipe out all traces of Buddhism if only given the chance. It's as always a tightrope walk, trying to strike a balance between doing too much and doing too little.

    Bodhidharma went to China when he could have stayed in India (the things you do in order to get some good Dim Sum), yet he (if he existed) didn't force his wisdom down anyone's throat.


    Gassho,

    Hans

  5. #5

    Re: Building the Sangha or Proselytising?

    Quote Originally Posted by Hans
    Bodhidharma went to China when he could have stayed in India (the things you do in order to get some good Dim Sum)...
    My new favorite answer to the question, "Why did the first patriarch come from the west?"

    :wink:

    --Charles

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