Authenticity and Buddhist Experience: A Multidimensional Approach

Authenticity and Buddhist Experience: A Multidimensional Approach

Monica Gilli (University of Turin, Italy)
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 17
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2796-1.ch002


Aim of this paper is the analysis of two Tibetan Buddhist Centers in Italy. The topic was the perception of authenticity by visitors. Our survey is based on 21 in-depth interviews to visitors of two Tibetan Buddhist Centers in Piedmont. What seems to emerge is that this experience is mainly nourished by the so-called “existential-experiential” authenticity, a notion of authenticity that is mainly spent on an individual level, which means searching for that “true self” that society and everyday life tend to inhibit. Although less important, the aspects of authenticity as a social construction and the so-called “objective authenticity” appear to be significant.
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Aim of this paper is the analysis of two Tibetan Buddhist Centers in Italy, with particular reference to authenticity, a widely popular theme in the Sociology of tourism: emerged in the Sixties of the last century, it has accompanied the development of the Sociology of tourism without a decrease in interest by scholars, both from a theoretical point of view, and regards to its operationalization. It was an interest not only motivated by academic reasons, but also by commercial reasons, since “authenticity” continues to be perceived as a value by tourists.

As for the choice to study Italian Buddhist Centers, the literature on Buddhist tourism is not particularly rich although many Asian Buddhist sites are popular tourist destinations, and Centers dedicated to the Buddhist practice are emerging anywhere in the world. The topic “authenticity”, which is frequent in ethnic-cultural tourism and, in general, in all modalities of tourism “... which involve the representation of the Other or of the past...” (Wang, 1999: 350), seems almost absent in studies on religious and spiritual tourism, Buddhist tourism included.1 Studies on Buddhist Tourism deal with the relationship hosts / guests (Smith, 1977; Wong et al., 2013), with the characteristics of the visitors (Choe & McNally, 2013; Nyaupane et al., 2015), with the potential conflicts between the economic/tourist dimension and the religious dimension (Graburn, 1996), with the political use of Buddhism in the tourist offer of a Country (Philp & Mercer, 1999; Ryan & Gu, 2010; Laliberte, 2011). We can add that almost all studies refer to the Asian world, where Buddhism was born and it has spread, and where the Buddhist sites have become not only a place of worship, but also a destination for visitors, sympathizers and cultural tourists. Studies of Buddhist Centers outside Asia (as in Italy) represents therefore a new point of view. They are the expression, not only of the spread of Buddhism in the world, but also of the appearance in Italy, beside the Catholic Church, of other spiritual/religious actors. Although many visitors of this religious/spiritual Centers do not consider themselves “tourists” (the range goes from “tourists” to “sympathizers” until to veritable “believers”) there is no doubt that in Italy some Centers are assuming a tourist and economic role (Gilli & Ferrari, 2016), which partly legitimize us to analyze them with the conceptual tools of the Sociology of tourism.

Our survey is based on 21 individual in-depth interviews to visitors of two Tibetan Buddhist Centers in Piedmont (the writer’s Region). The topic was the perception of authenticity by visitors of a Buddhist Center on the basis of a track of interview of about 20 questions. Each interview lasting between 30-40 minutes. Questions concerned the role of Buddhism in their own lives, the Buddhist practise, the role of the Master and of the community (Sangha) and, finally, the perception of authenticity in their Buddhist experience.

The interviews were conducted between June and July 2015, half in an urban Buddhist Center in Turin, the other half in the Buddhist monastery of Graglia, situated in a hilly area. The rural/urban difference between the two selected sites was obviously directed to verify the influence of the physical environment and of the landscape on the perception of authenticity of the respondents.

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