Saturday, October 13, 2012

Tara Carreon's critiques of Tibetan Buddhism

Tara Carreon tells of her frustration with long giving in to a lifestyle based on corrupt and illogical practices. While her arguments may be familiar to anyone who's read such from disillusioned former true believers, I found, as an interested bystander looking in on how Buddhism is marketed and disseminated in the West, a worthwhile articulation in 2000-odd words of her discontent with this popular if certainly off-beat justification for returning to what drove Tibetans, in Robert Thurman's worldview, to attain a spiritual revolution full of superlative, supernatural, and utterly fabled or fabulous, incredible, incredulous to me, achievements. You can find Carreon's reaction as a Kindle single, or in earlier publication on the website she co-authors, American-Buddha.

My review of "Inner Revolution" remarked similarly on Thurman's combination of sincerity and naivete, nostalgia and wish-fulfillment in Sept. 2009. Congenial to Donald S. Lopez's "Prisoners of Shangri-La," (see my review in July 2009) Carreon castigates the outmoded concepts of a medieval dharma combined with a naive Western audience eager to embrace anti-democratic, theocratic attitudes they'd never support if presented to them in America or any advanced society for fealty.

Carreon in an 8000-word-plus essay "Another View of Whether Tibetan Buddhism Is Working in the West" here (or Kindle single) responds (as of a decade ago) to Alan Wallace who at the magazine "Tricycle" settles into to a comfort zone that for me has been vaporized via the project at Glenn Wallis' "Speculative Non-Buddhism" the past year. As he typically comments on Thurman, DL, Wallace, et al.: "x-buddhist=a species of clown." (I note, in passing, synchronicity as Carreon credits on her "Nihilism" page a collage via "Killer Klowns from Outer Space," a pre-Jugaloo and therefore interminable cult film I saw in the glory days of VHS.) Although I confess that the Pixar co-founder's-funded Juniper initiative seeks less jarringly to pioneer a secularized Tibetan-spiced dharma more harmonious with the science and the everyday outlook we less-enchanted types share, before Juniper or Wallis promoted their philosophies online, Tara and Charles Carreon had produced an enormous website chock-full of personal musings, New Age or occult readings, and an enormous mix of ideas culled from and culling many sources--this resulted in Penguin suing them in 2009.

That aside, the couple's site advocates, unsurprisingly, a very vocal team of naysayers who share her jaundiced reaction to a belief and practice she'd spent over twenty years immersed in devotedly, before turning away from it in dismay, to popularize Jeffersonian tenets and homegrown, less obsequious approaches to advance res publica and to pursue a betterment of humankind. (The legal battles of her husband, Charles, I leave to those able to follow relentless litigation and to conjure some edification out of vicarious struggles in court and on the Web, well-covered elsewhere. As all parties involved air considerably blunt rhetoric, I keep a neutral stance, and direct you to a search engine if you wish to find out more about the ongoing machinations that may turn out to be longer than Bleak House's Jarndyce. v. Jarndyce's "scarecrow of a suit." Given bewildering or bizarre claims shared by legally, diligently documented "legendary hatreds," spontaneous combustion may ensue.)

All the same, I'd be cautious of advocating as enthusiastically as do the Carreons two dissidents who adapt the pen-names of Victor and Victoria Trimondi. As Swiss Tibetologist Martin Brauen documents in his enlightening survey of Tibetan collusion with Western occultism, "Dreamworld Tibet," (see my review in Feb. 2012), these German far-left critics, originally Herbert Röttgen and his wife Victoria, crusade relentlessly against the Dalai Lama's cult, and they've sought to establish its past ties to the psuedo-Aryan quest of the Reich. Other Tibetologists, from my estimation on the sidelines, warn to approach the Trimondi critique with due allowance for the pair's own bias--Victor's rooted in '68 Maoism and their demystifying ambitions may have caused them to confuse symbols with reality as they tried to interpret notoriously coded and esoterically occluded Tantric texts--in their attempts to right the historical record vs. present-day adulation for the exiled celebrity-leader.

As I've reviewed (see my search engine/keywords embedded for my blog) many accounts of the Tibetan predicament, I'll add as an aside that Tara Carreon stands with certain far-left colleagues I know in calling for a radical end to any hopes that Tibet will recover its patrimony. I've found that a lot of progressive types deny Tibet its future except in exile, and that they denigrate as a lapse back into feudalism any plea that China step away so Tibet can advance towards a democracy. After all, the Dalai Lama has relinquished the political rule over his former realm, and from what I can find since perhaps Carreon penned her pieces, a crackdown has only worsened post-2008, as my review of Tim Johnson's "Tragedy in Crimson" explores in-depth, in Tibet and abroad, under PRC surveillance.

I'd agree with how the Carreons remind audiences of the dangers of idol worship. I've noted in my reviews of the books "authored" under the Dalai Lama but surely written by a team of deft ghostwriters off of his venerable input, so to say, that the acclaim showered upon them seems overwrought and easy, as if none dare take criticism into account. His popularized versions of Tibetan wisdom, ethical advice, and inspirational guidance I regard as hit and miss. Given the disparity between his spoken English and what we read in that language conveyed, I suspect "lost in translation" or glossed are many subtleties his cabal coats for mass consumption. I've found wisdom in passages attributed to the DL, but often "he" dispenses sensible observations akin to those of humanists. He does appear to charm any skeptical journalist who approaches, but as my wife avers: maybe this is a willful surrender, a public-relations ploy? I tend towards leniency, but given the scrutiny with which the Fifth Estate examines other statesmen and preachers, one does wonder about objectivity. For all his flaws, the DL does command a media spotlight that reminds us with our own faults of at least our aspiration towards a less destructive direction. However cleverly promoted, he appears to comfort many seekers in a less injurious fashion than many leaders, religious or otherwise.

I am aware from my medievalist training of the multiple levels a religious presentation may inculcate, and how certain texts address the initiate and others the novice; some see within the DL's esoteric discourses sinister subtexts, but I leave those to the Buddhist scholars, frankly. My encounter has been more detached, and less gullible; I don't bow to role models. I've read widely in Catholic, Jewish, agnostic, atheist, and pagan sources. I spent a long time in grad school under the scrutiny of those who grappled with one theory and then another, trying to stand tall on Continental crests. I tired of this; it reminded me of Gulliver's reports on bladder-bearers and excremental exegetes in Laputa.

Those who have fallen out with their mentors often bring valuable lessons. They show us what happens when one stops thinking for one's self, and one embraces a code or creed that silences doubt. For a while, at least, if one still harbors a sharp mind or a suspect soul. My tendency remains not to elevate one particular tradition or denial of tradition above any other, and while this eclectic mentality may enrage some, I find it the more sensible and less provocative way to learn from what's around me, and to go my own way rather than follow a lama, a messiah, a politician, or a pundit. Didn't Van Morrison title an album not (only) "Enlightenment" but "No Guru, No Method, No Teacher?"

(Image credit

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Trimondis wrote their expose of Tibetan Tantric Buddhism not because of a history in leftist politics, but because after abandoning that, and devoting themselves to a spiritual path, which involved extensive study with the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, they learned directly from the DL that the TB tradition had a secret, esoteric side full of teachings and rituals involving sex with underage teens and pre-teens, and rites involving the consumption of bodily fluids and wastes as "proof" of transcendence of ordinary reality. Becoming alarmed and disgusted, they decided to research the tradition and make the results of their research available as a public service.

The Dalai Lama's public face in the West, in which he plays the role of a sort of philosophical cuddly teddy bear spewing platitudes and humor, is an act intended in part to demonstrate to the Chinese that he's harmless, and isn't playing politics in the West. It's also designed to whitewash a tradition with a very long history extending to the present time, of exploiting girls and women with no concern at all to the trauma they suffer from being coerced into rituals they don't understand or agree to. Ex-monks who know the DL well or who have worked in his entourage have learned the same masking technique, and deploy it to gain the favor, trust, and sometimes monetary gain from unsuspecting and naïve Westerners who want to believe the hype about Tibetan culture. The reality of that culture often couldn't be more opposite to the image they peddle.