Friday, 5 February 2010

Bhutan 4 Christ and a potential backlash

This is just in from "Wisdom Quarterly." It documents the recent rise of Christianity in the tiny Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan.

In the post, also found at Digital Tibetan Buddhist (dated to last November), the author responds to his worry for Bhutan with a divination:
As reported earlier... there have been devastating earthquakes, unusual weather anomalies, insidious acts by troublemakers, epidemic illness, and now, from Pemagatshel, comes word of a plague of grasshoppers.

Because I care very deeply for this place -- very deeply -- I decided to do a divination. In some ways, I wish that I had not, because what I saw is not going to make anybody happy.

It came to me that the cause of the misfortunes is the Western fundamentalist Christian missionaries who have been allowed to visit Bhutan and set up shop. These missionaries have caused a number of people to break samaya, and to forsake the Dharma. This breakage and outrageous abandonment of all sentient beings has caused the oath-bound protectors to rise up in anger. Numerous other things came to me, but this is the essential point.
Click here for more on divination in the Tibetan tradition.

Blaming natural calamities on other people's religious beliefs? Sounds like... Pat... Haiti...

While I'm all for respecting other people's practices and not being a darned Buddhist fundamentalist, this just seems wrong. Declaring a state religion - even if it's Buddhism - and restricting the activities of others is a recipe for disaster. Brian Victoria, an ordained Soto Zen priest and scholar of Japanese Buddhist Militarism, has lectured and written widely about this. Those who have followed the war in Sri Lanka, too, know the price of nationalized religion and the demonization of "outsiders." Tibet, too, was hampered by excessive suspicion of outside forces; as H.H. the 13th Dalai Lama foresaw the rise of China and sought to modernize and reach out to other powers, he was blocked by conservative forces in his own government.

Bhutan stands as perhaps the only "Buddhist" country yet to fall completely to outside forces, military rule, or resort to internal violence. What, ideally, should they do? For the most part, they've done great. The king instituted democratic government and voluntarily abdicated his throne. At the same time he's carefully balanced maintaining sovereignty and cultural integrity with opening to the outside world for "progress."

On of my old professors, a philosopher of technology, Albert Borgmann, predicted that the country would fall the way so many indigenous populations have when exposed to the corrosive effects of technology. He gave the example of Inuits who had begun to use GPS and within years were completely dependent on them - no longer able to navigate by landscape and the stars as they had for generations. Will Nepal soon find itself dependent on outside forces and technologies, never to return to the "Shangri-la" ways of its past? Is this necessarily a bad thing?

While we can think about Nepal in this larger context, it is wise not to lose sight of the specific issue at hand: Christian missionaries want desperately to convert the nation. What should they do? And what can/should we do (if anything) to help?


  1. This is a very interesting question. I come from a strong Christian background, and have recently begun practicing and learning about Buddhism in the Zen tradition.

    My gut reaction to this news is to tell the Christians to keep it to themselves. But, I know this is unreasonable for them. It would be abdicating an important spiritual duty. I cannot stress how much I disagree with this duty and the psychologically manipulative ways in which they go about it(especially within fundamentalism).

    But to be fair, I do not think that missionaries are generally aware of or care about any negative side effects of their proselytizing. From my perspective, they are like cultural and religious loggers, cutting and razing the forests of other peoples' ways of life. Okay that wasn't so fair. Let me give it another go. Ah, I can't. This is just my opinion. I just wish they'd leave them alone. *shrug*

  2. I'm curious this question hasn't been explored before in depth (perhaps it has) why Buddhists aren't more evangelical?

    LOL You aren't gonna let me live down that whole Buddhist Funddie thing, eh? :-)

  3. silentdebate - I wish they'd leave them alone too. But more so I wish the Buddhists would be more open in how they handle this (rather than authoritarian, banning Xtianity or whatnot). Open debates between Christians and Buddhists would be fun and informative to the masses, who could then make up their minds.

    Kyle - Historically, Buddhism HAS been quite evangelical. And it is still today, but perhaps just in ways we choose not to label as "evangelism."

  4. ps, Kyle - yes, I'm trying to "embrace" my inner Buddhist fundie.

  5. I, too, think it is high time that rigorous debate between Buddhists and Christians started. For if Christians think they are correct in theirs view—clearly they do and for that reason they feel compelled to tell others "the truth"—then Buddhists should engage them, just as in India with the Hindus.

    You say there is a God...prove it!

  6. I can't find the reference now, but in Mongolian courts there WERE debates between Christians and Buddhists and, if I remember correctly, the Buddhists won hands-down. The Christian's came back to Rome and declared the Mongols were unsaveable. Problem solved, everyone's happy.

  7. While it is suspect to blame all of Bhutan's woes on the rise of Christianity in the country, there are some limited grounds for this claim. As their people abandon cultural habits based in their Buddhist practice that have enabled a relatively sustainable existence with their environment for a western-based religious philosophy that does not encourage similar habits, they will inevitably start to create similar challenges that western societies now face. These include over-consumption of resources, technology fetishism, economic growth as a primary societal motivation, etc.

    Unfortunately, these habits of thought have been wrapped up in most modern Christian teachings. Certainly the gnostic gospels and other Christian teachings promote a more mindfulness-based approach to living one's life, but it seems that those teachings are not emphasized in most modern churches.

    It seems as though, because of globalization, Bhutan is rapidly being encouraged to accept the dominant western paradigm, which includes Christianity, capitalism, democracy, and many other interrelated philosophies / theologies. It has been challenging for the Bhutanese and other cultures to only select particular western values (e.g. democracy, market-based economies) without engaging in all the rest.

  8. I'm not a fan of proselytizing but I don't think the Buddhists should be trying to limit religious freedom. That said, I find a lot of Christians highly annoying but I'm working on a greater tolerance.