Exorcising Luther: Confronting the demon of modernity in Tibetan Buddhism
Thesis DisciplineReligious Studies
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
This study explores the idea that the Western adaptation of Tibetan Buddhism is in fact a continuum of the Protestant Reformation. With its inhospitable terrain and volatile environment, the geography of Tibet has played an important role in its assimilation of Buddhism. Demons, ghosts and gods are a natural part of the Tibetan world. Yet why is it that Tibetan Buddhism often downplays these elements in its self portrayal to the West? Why are Westerners drawn to an idealistic view of Buddhism as being rational and free from belief in the supernatural when the reality is quite different? This thesis will show that in its encounter with Western modernity Tibetan Buddhism has had to reinvent itself in order to survive in a world where rituals and belief in deities are regarded as ignorant superstition. In doing so it will reveal that this reinvention of Buddhism is not a recent activity but one that has its origins in nineteenth century Protestant values. While the notion of Protestant Buddhism has been explored by previous scholars this thesis will show that rather than solving the problems of disenchantment, Buddhist Modernism ignores the human need to find meaning in and to take control over one’s surroundings. In doing so it will argue that rather than adopting a modern, crypto-Protestant form Buddhism, Westerners instead need to find a way to naturally transplant Tibetan Buddhism onto their own surroundings.