Westerners often have a one-dimensional view of Tibet and Buddhism, according to a Buddhist scholar: it’s either a place of people who are “spiritually superior” or “demon worshippers.”
Dr. Judith Simmer-Brown, who spoke about “From Fringe to Fashion: The Rise of Tibetan Buddhism in America,” blamed the post-colonial attitude of the West toward Asian and Middle Eastern societies.
Simmer-Brown is a senior teacher, “acharya,” in Shambhala Buddhist lineage at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado.
She is on the steering committee for the Contemplative Studies of the American Academy of Religion, and on the board of Society of Buddhist Christian Studies. Simmer-Brown is published widely in meditation practice, Buddhist thought, inter religious dialogue and contemplative education.
About 30 people came Monday night to hear Simmer-Brown’s thoughts.
“She held my attention extraordinarily; the way she spoke made me want to listen to even more,” sophomore Madeline Hannappel said.
Hannappel said some people view Tibet as “as an exotic repository of ancient wisdom, populated by naïve happy people who are spiritually superior.” While others consider the people to be “demon worshippers trapped in a medieval past.”
Simmer-Brown was able to supplement her lecture with her own personal experiences of Tibetan Buddhism and its impact on her life.
She said she has been “a practicing Buddhist since 1971, Tibetan Buddhist since 1974,” as well as living in Tibetan Buddhist communities in India, Nepal, Tibet, and the United States for 37 years.
Simmer-Brown began her lecture with the explanation of ‘Orientalism’ referring to “a patronizing post-colonial attitude toward Asian and Middle Eastern cultures.”
She continued by recommending a book written by Donald Lopez entitledPrisoners of Shangri-La: Tibetan Buddhism and the West, which supports her argument that people view Tibet and its people “as an exotic repository of ancient wisdom, populated by naïve happy people who are spiritually superior” or seen as “demon worshippers trapped in a medieval past,” Simmer-Brown said.
After covering the history and plight of the country of Tibet, Simmer-Brown further explained her own journey, becoming a “Zen Yogini” and now being an “Acharya.”
Simmer-Brown said “Acharya is a Sanskrit word, meaning ‘someone who has mastered’, a title given to teachers and practitioners.”
After her presentation was completed, she took questions from the audience. The first being from a female student who asked, “What do you think about the ‘Free Tibet’ movement?”
Simmer-Brown answered, “That’s a really big question, I have not been directly involved…it is important, but there has been a big crisis in the Tibetan community in the last few years.”
“The last time I was in Tibet (2009) the amount of Chinese soldiers was overwhelming, and the Dalai-lama called a group of us together (activists, scholars, and Tibetan activists from America) and explained the three things he would work for: ‘preservation of Tibetan culture, practice of compassion, and interreligious dialogue’ – he would no longer be the political voice of Tibet,” Simmer-Brown said.
“Some people say all of these emulations are due to the fact that they do not know what else to do.” Simmer-Brown finished with saying, “it’s a very sad situation.”
Dr. Judith Simmer Brown said she hopes those who attended the lecture “give Tibet another look, with all the beauties they have to offer.”