Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Great Article Swap

Today's post is brought to you by Kyle at The Reformed Buddhist, part of the Article Swap concept, the brainchild of Nate at Precious Metal. The second part to my earlier post Let's Talk About Sex is appearing over at Shane's blog, zenfant's home for dirty Dharma. I will also be posting another guest article later, this one provided by the Rev. Danny Fisher. We're all sending our links to Nate so he can publish them and that way you can see all the blog swaps and maybe even get yourself exposed to some new bloggers in the process.

For this blog, Kyle tackeled the knotty and convoluted issue of Buddhism in the West, revealing the resiliency of the Buddha's teachings despite how they may appear to be modified by local culture. And not only that, I got a squirrel photo too!

The Brutal Trials of Buddhism’s Growth in the West

It certainly comes as no surprise to see that we have entered into a new era, a new generation of Buddhism in the West; not only in terms of the actual new practitioners and how their personalities and traits affect their view of the religion, but more importantly the state of the practice itself. The hard work that much of the baby-boomer generation, who put so much faith and effort into the nourishment and raising of Buddhism in the West from its infancy, with their tireless dedication and devotion, is indeed moving into much more of an adolescent stage of development. The turmoil and trials of being a teenager is not all that different than the state of Buddhism here in the West today. We have come a long way since the Beatnik’s of the 1950’s and the Counter-Culture Movement of the 1960’s, yet we have miles and miles of hard, determined work ahead of us if this living tradition is to grow and flourish into a much more mature and cohesive structure.

Unexpectedly, due to the explosion of the Internet and the proliferation of all the different Buddhist teachings displayed for all to see, a swarm of interested people have begun to take heart in the teachings, gathering around the dharma like moths attracted to a flame. However, many of these people don’t feel comfortable or don’t wish to pick one path or one particular tradition, and this has created much havoc around the Buddhist community. Many see Buddhism as a type of cross over practice, one that fits within the confines of science and logic, practicality and the profound insight of reason, honesty of self and a bridge that helps to look into the true nature of our existence. They are turned off by words like dogma, blind faith and belief and are more drawn to the essence of what the Buddha taught in tandem with the light and knowledge of a modern perspective. Through books and blogs, through the Internet and word of mouth, this entangled view of what the Buddha taught has become no less authentic than any of the existing traditional forms of Buddhism that are in existence today. However this has come at the cost of great conflict and heated emotions.

In addition, we as a community are dealing with some extremely difficult and painful obstacles, whose roots are founded in the greed and ego of men. This is nothing new in history, as all cultures and religions have experienced this kind of conflict. However, many differences stand out from history in this new struggle, as a multitude of factions have splintered to stake what they feel is their claim to the direction of Buddhism in the West. There are those who desperately grasp on to the status quo and refuse to acknowledge the rights of others to explore change; There are some whose goal is nothing less than that time tested motive of profit making, and will spare no punches to protect what they feel is their beautiful and endless cash cow; And worse, there are some who’s drive is much more nefarious in nature, who’s motives are as simple, but so utterly destructive, such as sexual misconduct, predatory fraud, racism and even just pure ego. Here is a brief, but I feel fairly concise list of these major obstacles and challenges we face as a community today. Some of these are negatives that we must endeavor to root out and some are challenges that can offer either great benefit or great conflict.

The defiling of Buddhism for the purposes of Commercialization

Lack of or denial of access to Buddhist resources for poor, middle class and rural people

Sexual Exploitation, Monetary Fraud and Counterfeit Credentials by some so-called ‘teachers’

The fantastic, yet chaotic collision of the multitudes of different Buddhist traditions online

Secularization, Science and Crossover Religions such as a Buddhist/Christian Mix

Racism, Classism and Sexism

Cultural and Intellectual Snobbery – “My Buddhism is more authentic than your Buddhism.”

This last point has been a subject of great debate online lately, which has lead to a few constructive discussions but also has seen some very disrespectful and downright ugly articles and comments aimed at belittling how others choose to practice their faith and religion. Authentic Buddhism to me is the unquestionable commitment to oneself to explore, test and understand the teachings that have been passed down from the Buddha from generation to generation. It is an exploration of nature and heart, and not necessarily limited to the traditional forms of Buddhist worship. The authentic expression of how the Buddha Dharma exists are unlimited and unending, with various manifestations, and while there are multitudes of ‘wrong paths’ one may take, Westerners are no less capable than any other people to find their own true way. As well, Buddhism has spread far beyond the stereotype of the rich white urban liberal and now encompasses people from all ethnic, political and cultural persuasions. There are liberals, conservatives, non-vegetarians, Christians, atheists, blue collar workers and yes, even us Rednecks who now are seriously looking at the Buddhist teachings as a bright shining way, away from blind faith and away from dogma, away from the un-testable supernatural, and indeed many are finding a spiritual path worth exploring.

Many are even finding the integration of Buddhist philosophy with scientific topics such as biology, psychology and perhaps most importantly physics to be one of the keys to a positive and mass reception in Western culture, and is helping greatly with the basic understandings of the fundamentals such as impermanence, anatta and dukkha. We must realize, however, the way we transmit the teachings must not exclude the thousands of years of past cultural heritage and techniques, but, however is taught in a way that neither confusing nor difficult to comprehend, and is incorporated in both new and old traditions.

It is amazing for me to know I live in a time such as this, a time where traditions collide, new ways of seeing Buddhism are formed and the extraordinary enthusiasm that all those who are new to the practice are showing us all a different way. What we want, we cannot explain, what we seek, we cannot describe. What we’ve been told doesn’t always fit and what we think doesn’t always match what we see. The power of the people’s will is sweeping down the newly formed valley of practice here in the West, like a glacial mass, growing in every moment, feed by the streams of discontent from the mountains of impure dogma, wicked greed and the ego driven contempt, condescension and intolerance of change.

This journey of inward soul searching our community has already begun to undertake is indeed a radical, colossal and prodigious event that cannot be stopped by the mere motives of a few scoundrels, profiteers or deviants. Sorry Noah, it’s too late to build the Ark, I’m waist deep in water and the only way out is to keep swimming.


  1. Thanks for posting this Richard. :-)

  2. Yet another fantastic article from the swap. Thanks for being a part of it!!!