Monday, June 02, 2008

The Dalai Lama and Western Religion

The Dalai Lama has been doing a number of gigs in Nottingham, UK, in front of thousands of people. Every day he emphasised the importance of continuing in one’s own faith. “It’s better to keep your own tradition, Catholic, Protestant — better, safer,” he said.

I found this an interesting, even quite extraordinary position to take. He was speaking primarily to modern westerners. On the one hand it says a lot about his tolerance and his understanding that Truth can be found in all traditions. It’s not something you’d hear coming out of the mouth of a radical Islamist or a Pope. It’s not even something you’d hear from a moderate, pleasant, civilised Sunni (I have one in mind), who states as a simple matter of fact that the Shias are not real Muslims. With moderates like this, who needs extremists?

As an aside, this was one of the film-maker Anthony Minghella’s (The English Patient) points. He had noticed how perfectly reasonable, civilised people from different cultures could easily hold incompatible viewpoints which could ultimately lead to conflict. Part of his mission was to explore this through his film-making.

I am sure, for example, that there are many very reasonable and humane Israelis who think that Israel has every right to exist pretty much in its present form, and that if a wall round Gaza is the only way to keep the suicide bombers out, then so be it. I am sure at the same time that there are many very reasonable and humane Palestinians who feel that Israel has pushed them out of their homeland, that their conditions are intolerable, and that action needs to be taken.

You don’t need extremists to get wars. You just need ordinary, decent people who have the usual failing of finding it hard to see the other’s point of view – and who will also succumb to group pressure to see issues one-sidedly. So let’s not blame the fundamentalists for everything!

Back to the Dalai Lama. He has Saturn in the 9th House (like the present Pope), which is a classic aspect for a spiritual leader/ teacher. It is also in the sign of Pisces, which describes his tolerance and inclusivity towards other religions, his teaching that at the end of the day, it is the development of a compassionate heart that matters.

At the same time, his position here is very Piscean, it is not something that the opposite sign of Virgo would say! Virgo would point out, in its usual analytical style, that there are differences between religions that we need to be aware of, and to tread carefully. And that people are different: some will find it most helpful to stay with their own tradition, while others will need to explore different paths.

The Dalai Lama’s Saturn is opposite a 3rd House Moon-Neptune conjunction in Virgo. This is the main challenge in his chart (the other is Mars in Libra square Pluto, which describes his quest for non-violence). With Moon in 3rd House Virgo and Mercury in Gemini trine Mars, there is no doubting the sharpness of his mind. But there is a tension here between Virgo and Pisces that is basic to the Dalai Lama, and I think it is the Moon, in its conjunction to Neptune and in the context of a very watery chart, that is likely to get swamped.

I think the statement he made about everyone sticking with their own religion is one-sidedly Piscean. It is common sense that some people, even many people will need to explore other paths. So I don’t think I am imposing my own opinion onto the Dalai Lama’s astrology when I say that his statement is an example of Pisces getting the better of Virgo. Not just his Moon being swamped, but also his Mercury in the watery 12th House. (For more on the Dalai Lama's chart, see my post of 7th April.)

I assume, given context and audience, that the Dalai Lama very much has in mind westerners aligning themselves with the Tibetan Buddhist path. I have to assume also that his experience of this has overall not been a happy one!

I think he has a point. One Buddhist group I have visited, for example, is run by academics/intellectuals, and the audience/congregation are classic timorous church mice. I thought why bother switching from the Church of England? It’s no different.

Then there are the big Tibetan groups, and again I can see what I think is the Dalai Lama’s point, from my limited experience. The people in them are sincere, but often very guru-focussed at the expense of their own strength and power – lost souls. And they do all this chanting in a foreign language, often without a very clear idea of why. One western Tibetan group has been protesting against the Dalai Lama: the issue is a political one, and whatever the rights and wrongs of it, it goes back hundreds of years and all these poor westerners have been drawn into one particular side of it.

In other words Tibetan Buddhism is an organised religion like any other. People like to accord it special status, but I think that is a mistake. And I think this is where the Dalai Lama is coming from. Organised religion has its well understood failings, but you’ll also find some good teachings in all of them. And within it you’ll also find the mystics, those who have their own direct relationship with the Absolute, rather than having it mediated by priests or monks, to whatever extent.

At the same time, people often have a profound need to leave the religion they were brought up with, and the Dalai Lama for some reason does not appear to understand this. Maybe it is because of the traditional context he grew up in, where you didn’t have this phenomenon of rebellion and alienation that you get in the West.

My experience of the Catholic Church from my very early years was of people who were dogmatic and intolerant, often harsh, and not very intelligent. My subsequent experience of the Church of England, while a relief after the Catholic Church, was of something very dilute. There was no way I was going near either when I grew up. Moreover, they ask you to believe preposterous things.

So this is why I find the Dalai Lama’s statement extraordinary. It suggests that, after all these years, he does not understand the western predicament. It may be, as he said, “safer” to stick with your native religion, and I have seen plenty of examples of young westerners coming to grief through their involvement with Buddhism. But some of them, including myself, learn from that. The West is a melting pot in which it is difficult to find a meaningful and human way to live, and a philosophy to back it up. But it is also open and free and thrilling and certainly not ‘safe’. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Mu'Min M. Bey said...

Interesting post, and as a Muslim from the United States, a Black American one, I found your comments in tht regard a bit uninformed. To a Sunni, a Shia is seen as something of a traitor, quite frankly, and this goes all the way back to the death of the Prophet, PBUH. Still, w/all that said, there is something to be said for tolerance, and the historical record shows at least as much tolerance within the Islamic world as anywhere else.

Anyway, your analysis of the Dalai Lama's chart was interesting, but I found your comments wrt the Pope to be a bit inaccurate; here's a man who's gone out of his way to show tolerance to other faiths, most notably Judiaism and Islam. Methinks your own bad memories of the Catholic Church are getting in the way. I've found that to be common among Brits.

Here Stateside, one of the themes I've been most interested is in examining the virulent anti-organized religion focus in the astrology community; as a passionate astrological exponent for more than 15 years, I think I stand as living proof that it is indeed most certainly possible to be an astrologer AND an ardent adherent to one of the world's oldest and most established faiths. And I have the beginnings of a theory that explains why so many of my peers think and act as they do.

As you note, the West emphasizes rebellion, freedom and choice; many of my White peers-and let's be honest, the vast majority of enthusiasts in the Western astrology world are indeed White-somehow feel traumatized by organized religion in a way that me nor my African and African American brothers and sisters do not. Consider for example, Martin Luther King Jr, another man comitted to non violence. Many of my peers sing his praises, while they launch some of the most vitriolic assaults on his faith that one has ever seen. How is this possible, this level of cognitive dissonance? And more to the point, how is it possible for a people who had and has, every reason to "rebel" against all the West represents, end up being ardent supporters of the faith? What is up with that???

After discussing this w/a colleague and good friend of mine, I've come to the conclusion that, as he points out, a lot of our White peers need a reason to feel "special" about themselves, and "rebelling" against established and proven, workable, Western norms, gives th chance to do that. Astrology is one of them.

I'll hold here. Holla back


Dharmaruci said...

Hi Mu, thanks for your comments, just looked you up. I especially agreed with your point on your site about astrologers needing life experience. This issue runs right through all sorts of healing/counselling trainings in the west, where it does not seem to be understood. It makes me suspect the motives of those running the courses and handing out the certificates!

Regarding my 'innacuracy' on the Pope and Islam, here's a quote from a speech of his in 2006, which I used in my post Papal Bull: “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” Call that tolerant?

Regarding me being uninformed about Shia/Sunni, I'll admit I know very little, but what I said was right: I don't think there's much difference between saying the Shias aren't real Muslims or that they are traitors! It's a completely intolerant position to hold, and it's time the Muslims left behind their medieval politics.

The broader religious question! I'm not sure how much of what we see is a rebellion against established religion - though we may need to do that when we are younger - as the irrelevance of religion. The Christian Church askes people to believe a lot of things which nowadays we cannot do. I think that's fair enough.

Also, organised religion provides a source of identity and psychological security for a lot of people, and they need that. Here's where I'll probably piss you off! - what I maintain is that during the course of our lives, some of us grow out of that need and therefore out of the need for organised religion. I am NOT saying that all adherents of religion are in it for identity and security, but it is certainly a major, and unconscious, factor for many, if not the majority.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the lovely article.

I wanted to suggest that perhaps the Dalai Lama meant for people to look inside themselves and within their own traditions to see the universal compassionate truths in every religion without looking outside or comparing all the time.

If you think of it in terms of soul searching, one's heritage, DNA, sorting through pain, and loving one's whole self, it may make more sense.

As an example, one can be raised Catholic but know that your particular church or experience wasn't all there is to the faith. Can one look deeply to find the messages within the vast history of Catholicism and learn to see the truth within? It is an institution, but also a living faith. In the west, yes, there is rebellion and need for variety, but in the end people must return to themselves, to meditate, and to dig through themselves. Compassion, peace and meditation with the self is universally valued and found.

It is a safer approach because it is already a part of oneself, without spending years and losing time searching outside or risk getting lost, and even then risking not understanding and embracing your original heritage fully. I think that was what he was pointing out because that's where the soul work most urgently needs to be completed by all of us. When it isn't safely and peacefully done, you create more division and disruptions in the world, extending the journey.

He understands the western predicament very fully, actually, and he sees that there is still a deep internal split if people layer new understanding on top without sorting and forgiving everything within their own traditions.