Ethnically Han Chinese lay Buddhists in major eastern cities can now often be seen adopting elements from Tibetan Buddhism into their practices. In Nanjing, we can see a young family sitting around the TV in the evening, each spinning a Tibetan hand-held prayer wheel while watching the news. When a Tibetan lama is in town, a group of “Buddhist grandmas” goes to make offerings and get blessings. A study group video-conferences with their teacher when he is back at home in his monastery in Labrang, a Tibetan region.
This trend has been increasing over the past two decades, but has received relatively little attention in the scholarly literature. This paper aims to address this gap by focusing on two questions: how do regular Han Chinese lay Buddhists in eastern cities come to adopt Tibetan Buddhist elements into their practices, and what does it look like when they do? Based on in-depth interviews and participant-observation with over fifty lay Buddhists in Nanjing, this paper investigates common processes of encounter and adoption of Tibetan Buddhist elements. It also provides the first detailed illustration of what it looks like when these are incorporated into lay Buddhists’ practices and outlook; through fine-grained profiles of three urban lay Buddhists and their activities.
I argue that the majority of Han Chinese lay Buddhists who incorporate Tibetan Buddhism into their practice are “Accidental Esoterics.” That is, they were not intentionally seeking out esoteric or Tibetan forms of Buddhism. Rather, they adopted Tibetan Buddhism into their toolkits primarily based on availability and effectiveness, not because of a preference for Tibetan Buddhism over Chinese Buddhism. Specifically, I contend that we should understand the incorporation of Tibetan Buddhist elements into Han Chinese toolkits as (1) accidental in the majority of cases, (2) driven by availability rather than preference, (3) eclectic rather than exclusivist, and (4) surprisingly ubiquitous.
This study thus suggests that previous research has missed two key points by focusing on the tiny minority of Han Chinese Buddhists who seek out Tibetan Buddhism, and by asking why people choose Tibetan Buddhism, rather than how people encounter and adopt it. First, that Tibetan Buddhist elements are found in the toolkits of a significant percentage of Han Chinese lay Buddhists in eastern cities. Second, that this trend, however large, may matter less than we suppose, as these Tibetan Buddhist elements are absorbed into people’s toolkits in a way that reduces their distinctiveness or impact on the worldviews of Han Chinese people.
Auntie Li represents many lay Buddhists as she wrestles with the question of how to do a good job as a Buddhist when that is sometimes in tension with her business and other aspects of Chinese society. This chapter explores four dimensions of this question as they play out in Auntie Li’s story. First, we look at her practices to see what she does when explicitly doing religious practice. Next, we examine her pathway into Buddhism. Her story of how she got involved not only represents a typical path, but also reveals some important anxieties and tensions around how to define and embody a “good Buddhist” in post-Socialist China. Finally, Auntie Li tells us how she negotiates the tensions between business and Buddhism: how to be a “good Buddhist” with the hectic pace and moral ambiguities of living a “normal” lay life – especially as a small entrepreneur?
We use unique data from the Boston Non-Profit Organizations Study, an innovative survey containing rich information on organizational participation across seven social domains in two Boston neighborhoods, to examine the relationship between ethnic diversity and participation in local organizations. In particular, we identify neighborhood-based social ties as a key mechanism mediating the initial negative association between diversity and participation. In contrast to previous work, we measure participation using both the domain-based and group-based approach, with the former approach uncovering a wider range of organizational connections that are often missed in the latter approach.We also investigate the relationship between interpersonal ties and organizational ties, documenting how primary involvement with an organization facilitates the development of further interpersonal ties and secondary forms of organizational involvement. We then discuss implications of our findings for urban poverty research.
One of the most striking trends in urban Chinese Buddhism is the adoption of elements of Tibetan Buddhism by ethnically Han Chinese Buddhists. The author offers a preliminary exploration of this phenomenon. Focusing on regular lay Buddhists, she describes the characteristics of Han involvement with Tibetan Buddhism and explores the reasons for this trend. The author combines a structural perspective that focuses on how Tibetan Buddhism is supplied in eastern cities with a cultural perspective that examines how the appeal of Tibetan Buddhism is constructed for a Han Chinese audience.