October 31, 2010

Indians and Buddhists make peace

Finding Common Ground

By Jim RobbinsIt seemed the perfect setup for a clash of two cultures when Mr. Sang-ngag, a high-ranking Buddhist lama, came to this remote part of Montana a decade ago, liked the landscape feng shui and bought a 60-acre sheep ranch. At the foot of the towering, glacier-etched Mission Mountains—not unlike his native Tibet—he and a band of volunteers began building a Garden of 1,000 Buddhas to promote world peace.

The arrival of the exotic culture here in cowboy country, with multicolored prayer flags flapping in the breeze, made some from the Salish and Kootenai tribes uneasy, to say the least.

An unusual land ownership pattern was partly to blame. While most Indian reservations are majority-owned by the tribes, a 1904 law allowed nonmembers of the tribes to homestead land. And as a result, there are four to five times as many non-Indians on the reservation as there are Indians.
And:Julie Cajune, the executive director for American Indian Policy at Salish Kootenai College and other Indians began working to build bridges between the tribes and the Buddhists. They suggested that the Buddhists bring traditional gifts, prayer scarves and tobacco, to the tribal council, which they did.

“Many people move here without recognition they are a guest,” Ms. Cajune said. “None of the mainstream churches or the Amish have done that.”
And:But the patchwork of Indian and non-Indian land holdings within the reservation remains contentious. Some tribal members are worried that groups drawn to the Buddhist garden will buy up nontribal land, driving prices further out of the reach of Indians, and ignore tribal rules and customs.

They point to the case of Amish families who have bought farmland within the reservation, said Ms. Cajune, who is Salish.
And:But Ms. Cajune said there was also an uncanny kinship between the tribal and Buddhist cultures, based on understandings of sacred landscapes, and even notions of honor and respect.

The biggest driver of rapprochement here is a shared history of subjugation and displacement—for the Tibetans, at the hands of the Chinese (Mr. Sang-ngag spent nine years in a Chinese labor camp) and for the tribes, by the American government.
Comment:  For more on religion in America, see America's History of Religious Intolerance and White Christians Say What's Sacred.

Below:  "Gochen Tulku Sang-ngag Rinpoche, left, and Khenpo Namchak checking on the quality of the completed castings of Buddhas." (Mike Albans for The New York Times)

1 comment:

dmarks said...

:for the Tibetans, at the hands of the Chinese"

There's been recent news about Mainland China's efforts to eradicate the Tibetan language and culture. It puts the lie to the Mainland China's claims that Tibet is an irrevocable cultural part of China. If it really were, why would they have go to to draconian efforts to turn it from being Tibetan into being Chinese?