Preconceptions

Even if you do not know much about Buddhism, you will have some existing preconceptions. It is interesting to stop and think what these are and from where they have come. Are they positive or negative or neither? How did they get inside your head and how reliable or representative are the sources of these preconceptions? Contemporary Western perceptions of Buddhism are often positive in a rather romanticised way – Buddha images are found in houses, gardens or spa centres, bought by people who want to suggest peace and serenity. The Dalai Lama is generally held in high esteem, and is something of an international celebrity. Festival-goers sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to him when he visited Glastonbury festival in 2015, close to his 80th. Others are attracted by the idea of Buddhism as a rational religion, or perhaps not a ‘religion’ but a ‘philosophy’, based on personal experience and compatible with modern science.  These are however perceptions, deriving from a variety of sources including earlier scholarship, colonial encounters and even advertising. If your picture of a Buddhist is an oriental man in an orange robe, then this reflects the British history of colonialism and earlier scholarship, as well as patriarchy. Earlier preconceptions were not always as positive, and negative preconceptions can still be found today – Buddhists as worshippers of idols (think of the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan in 2001), or as pessimistic and fatalistic and therefore not doing much to help people practically, or monks and nuns as parasites on the hardworking people. The author suggests above some of the origins of her own initial interest in and experience of Buddhists and Buddhism, which she hopes have been improved by over four decades of studying and meeting Buddhists. Her own initially rather romanticised view of Buddhism was challenged by arriving in Sri Lanka in 1983 on the day when violence broke out between Buddhist-identifying Sinhalese and Hindu-identifying Tamils. It might be useful to stop and reflect on where your own

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