Is Nessie a Naga?
Buddhism in the West and Emerging Strategies of Importation
Keywords:nagas, Tibetan Buddhism, Buddhism in the West, ritual
In 2014 Lama Gelongma Zangmo of Scotland sparked curiosity when she suggested that the Loch Ness monster or “Nessie” is actually a naga––a fantastic creature from Buddhist mythology. Visitors to her Tibetan practice center on the shores of the Loch will be able to leave offerings to Nessie. Without exaggerating the significance of these offerings within the larger context of Zangmo’s practice, this article suggests that efforts to ritually incorporate Nessie into a Buddhist cosmology is an index of broader changes in Buddhism’s arrival to the West. First, Zangmo’s open discussion of cosmology, ritual, and supernatural beings is a marked distinction from “Protestantized” Western Buddhism, which has historically presented Buddhism as a rational and philosophical alternative to Christianity. This suggests that Buddhists in the West have become less concerned with conforming to Protestant notions of “proper” religion. Second, Zangmo’s praxis is significant to broader patterns of how Asian religions adapt to Western topography. Whereas Asian immigrants have sometimes re-imagined Asian sacred sites in Western countries, Zangmo was taken the opposite strategy of “Buddhicizing” a local monster. This suggests that similar transformative moves can be expected as a globalized world continues to transplant religious traditions from one continent to another.
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