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 Current conclusion about Buddhism in Western culture

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jack



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PostSubject: Current conclusion about Buddhism in Western culture   Sat Aug 04, 2012 10:43 am

What's written below (slightly edited from what I wrote elsewhere) seems to me to be fair. Perhaps it's written too frankly and starkly. But it summarizes a conclusion from the past five years of my Buddhist experience and disenchantment with the OBC as being a materially wholesome institution.

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The simple answer is that many people who are interested in Buddhism are rightly skeptical of traditional Buddhist organizations which are heavily encrusted with the ritual and myth of foreign cultures. This cultural history and bias has obscured basic Buddhist teaching and has, as with many other religious institutions, provided religious cover for abusive power, money, and sex. And it has limited the cultural adaptation of Buddhism to Western values of social justice and compassion, which are not strong parts of its cultural history. Imported institutional Buddhism hasn't seemed to fare much better in this regard than any other prevailing form of institutional religion.

I still think that basic Buddhist teachings have something valuable for our Western culture if they can be freed from the Eastern mythology and ritual it is now encased in. If Buddhist truth is worthwhile, it will be efficacious when rooted in context of Western culture, and potentially enhanced, rather than diminished by it.
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Lise
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PostSubject: Re: Current conclusion about Buddhism in Western culture   Mon Aug 06, 2012 9:38 pm

Jack, my experience aligns with your summary.

The longer that I read and think and wonder about Buddhism, the more I question any degree of reliance on, or attraction to, the rituals, myths and legends of foreign cultures. If it helps some people to follow Japanese, Tibetan, Chinese rituals, I respect that; it supports their practise, they feel it's beneficial, that's all great - but I don't agree it is necessary for everyone. Foreign words, clothes, chants, terms of address for monks, rules on how to live . . . these trappings are endless. Why do it, when you can read the Pali canon, work on being aware of what you say and do to people, try not to hurt people . . . is there really more to it than that?
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jack



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PostSubject: Re: Current conclusion about Buddhism in Western culture   Tue Aug 07, 2012 9:44 pm

Lise wrote:


. . . these trappings are endless. Why do it, when you can read the Pali canon, work on being aware of what you say and do to people, try not to hurt people . . . is there really more to it than that?

It was interesting experience to read significant portions of the Buddha's discourses in the Pali Canon, and to find (at least in general) not exotica or esoterica, but basic teaching told differently with thousands of variations of illustrative story and conversation. Those basic teachings, reiterated in manifold form, are ones that I've found useful.

(To be sure, some of the sutras bend heavily to Hindu mythology. But the preponderance of them simply restate the same threads of teaching.)

A monk once told me that it was OK to be greedy for enlightenment -- and presumably all the ritualistic accoutrements that the temple offered. I now see this grasping as just another impediment rather than the keys to the treasure house. Ritualistic candy just makes the fingers stickier and stickier.
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Jcbaran

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PostSubject: Re: Current conclusion about Buddhism in Western culture   Sun Aug 12, 2012 10:44 am

Jack, you might take a look at the videos from the just completed Buddhist Geeks conference. The entire conference was live streamed Friday and Saturday of this weekend, and I think they will be posting the full videos on line in the next few days. Free.

All the presentations are I think from westerners and it is all about Dharma in the West that does not rely so much on old eastern ways and stories.

Buddhism in the west is quick a mish mash of traditions and approaches. There are still many Tibetan center and organizations that are very or mostly traditional - with all the ancient trappings, chanting in Tibetan, and lead mostly by Tibetan lamas. Some Tibetan groups have e evolved into a more Western model and have western leaders. The Shambhala organization as adapted to some extent but still relies on a Tibetan monarchy model that I think is very outdated and potentially harmful. The Dalai Lama has become a huge presence in the west. Wherever he speaks, tens of thousands of people come to hear him, but most are not interested in being Buddhists or meditating - they come to be moved and inspired and see him as an interfaith symbol of peace and harmony. Even when the Dalai Lama gives traditional dharma teachings and thousands some for that, it doesn't seem to translate into action, into practice. More inspirational for most people.

What seems to be the most popular is the many variations of mindfulness / vipassana since most of the centers and teachers are not gurus, do not demand obedience, many have no religious trappings at all - they just stress mindfulness in sitting and daily life. Some of the approaches have eliminated all Buddhist terminology - like Jon Kabat Zinn and his Mindfulness Stress Reduction programs. Also, this approach is easily brought into modern daily life.

In the Zen world, it is also a mixed bag - from groups trying to be modern traditional - perhaps like Zen Center in San Francisco or Kyogen in Portalnd to Genpo - who went through that recent scandal, has rejected his official Zen title (so he is not accountable to his tradition) and created this Big Mind approach - that is a mixture of meditation and verbal therapy. Bernie Glassman is going the route of engaged Buddhism with his peacemakers order, and then there are dozens or perhaps hundreds of smaller zen groups lead by various western zen teachers. No idea how these groups are fairing, but my sense is that you are right, they are small and are not appealing to that many westerners. And some groups become quite cultic in various ways - cults of personality or secluded practice.

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Isan
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PostSubject: Re: Current conclusion about Buddhism in Western culture   Sun Aug 12, 2012 2:28 pm

Lise wrote:
The longer that I read and think and wonder about Buddhism, the more I question any degree of reliance on, or attraction to, the rituals, myths and legends of foreign cultures. If it helps some people to follow Japanese, Tibetan, Chinese rituals, I respect that; it supports their practise, they feel it's beneficial, that's all great - but I don't agree it is necessary for everyone. Foreign words, clothes, chants, terms of address for monks, rules on how to live . . . these trappings are endless. Why do it, when you can read the Pali canon, work on being aware of what you say and do to people, try not to hurt people . . . is there really more to it than that?

The problem with rituals from foreign cultures is some people ascribe magical properties to them. I believe this was Jiyu Kennett's main motivation for translating all the Zen literature and ceremonial into English. Although many people don't like the "Anglicanized" result at least everyone is hearing and speaking their own language. Ritual is just a tool and can be used for good or ill. I recently attended a memorial mass (Catholic church) for a deceased acquaintance and although there is a great deal about Catholicism that is unacceptable to me I find the way they speak openly about forgiveness / redemption / prayer / timelessness / mystery quite moving and healing. It clearly helped many people who attended.

One can fashion a solitary practice without rituals, but when you want to get together with other people to express a shared intention ritual comes into play. The point is to be empowered instead of the opposite. It is too often the case that priests / monks /ministers / teachers have come to be seen as intermediaries between the mystery and the congregation. This notion has to be discarded so that we can encounter the mystery directly. One ritual I like is the Native American practice of passing the talking stick. Each person has the opportunity to speak from the heart...
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jack



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PostSubject: Re: Current conclusion about Buddhism in Western culture   Mon Aug 13, 2012 10:20 pm

Jcbaran wrote:
Jack, you might take a look at the videos from the just completed Buddhist Geeks conference. The entire conference was live streamed Friday and Saturday of this weekend, and I think they will be posting the full videos on line in the next few days. Free.

I'll take a look at that.

I've read about Glassman and the Greyston Foundation/Bakery. I think he's on the right track by focusing on projects that put Buddhism into practice. That's where one figures out which parts of Buddhism work, and which don't; the monastic worlds are artificial environments specifically contrived to shut out that testing..

I've almost decided to start a regional Buddhist association that avoids some of the problems I've come to see with Buddhism in the West. It may have to incorporate some aspect of teaching -- because that's a frequent request from people I've encountered who are exploring Buddhism -- but I think there's wholesome benefit in trying to "do" compassion rather than just thinking one has arrived if one feels it occasionally. (I don't think highly of compassion as just a feeling, though it may be all that some people can aspire to..) Many here have expressed worthwhile ideas; if I go that path, perhaps I can benefit from them.
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