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Sunday, February 17, 2008

Western Influenced Buddhism.

Today’s post is a continuation of this post (click here to read).

I think many would agree with me that words/labels/symbols are limited in their reach but still necessary to navigate this samsara that we find ourselves within. Yet descriptors can sometimes help us understand each other and therefore increase our realization of the Oneness of Consciousness. It is within those parameters that I return to one of my favorite topics, the controversial subject of Western Buddhism.

I am distancing myself from the term Western Buddhism that I’ve been using on this blog because it is too limiting and unwieldy.

I tend to agree with the position that Western Buddhism is not establishing a totally new and unique branch of Buddhism. It could still happen at some point down the road in the evolution of time and space but for right now It is still very debatable and blurry.

At this point the way I would define the term “Western Buddhism” to simply mean that a western Buddhist’s perspective toward the Dharma might be a little different then a traditional Asian Buddhist cultural view. Both are beautiful and to be respected but they differ because of slight cultural differences. It’s like speaking two slightly different languages such as French versus Italian, many of the words are quite similar and sentence structures are somewhat similar as well. Doesn’t make one better or worse but just a different variation of the system of tonal symbols that we use to communicate ideas and concepts that enable us to grow and succeed as a global community.

Another example could be shown via the prism. It is generally known that a prism refracts the light of the sun into the varied colors of the rainbow. Each one is vivid, bright and beautiful. We can see that they each add something slightly different to the stunning and blissful tapestry of color than the rest and we wouldn’t say that red is better than green as they are both equally brilliant.

Well the different cultures that influence the tableau of Buddhist schools are like these different colors. These diverse cultures have various characteristics that can’t help but slightly influence Buddhism. However, despite these varied cultural aspects, Buddhists across this diverse planet Earth are interconnected and blended together by the strong bonds of the Four Noble Truths and the Eight-Fold Path. The inter-locking connectors of impermanence, inter-being and no self strengthen the bond. And the five precepts act as another bridge between cultures although some cultures might disagree as to the particulars of certain precepts but that is a post for another time.

So It is with all that in mind why I find it more accurate to say that I am a Zen Buddhist with a western influence, rather than using the cumbersome, amorphous, vague moniker of Western Buddhism. Especially since this theory that Western Buddhism is a totally new and unique branch of Buddhism is still very debatable and blurry right now.

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davd said...

I think that anyway you define your path it is cool.

I always think of Sakyamuni himself. He was blazing his own trail,... and it worked out quite well.

If being Zen + Western really moves you along and fits, then it is the right place to be.

I know what a powerful teacher Thay is and one can never go wrong following his lead.

They call him James Ure said...


I agree. As long as we are doing our best not to cause suffering and doing your best to live the Dharma, I think you're just fine. None of us are "perfect." In fact, nothing is perfect except that perfection is perfectly empty.

I love Thay and am proud to follow his teachings. I am still quite the novice but I am happy to just be where I am at right now. I am going forward at my pace and that's very important in my mind.

If we try to rush things along we only get frustrated and are more prone to just pitch the Dharma altogether.

Thank-you for your insight and support. I bow to the Buddha within you.

clay.collier said...

There was an interesting article on Salon recently (here) on attempts to create Western Buddhist groups that appeal more to the younger generation, with some of the older American practice groups now seeming to be so strongly tied to the Baby Boomer generation that younger people are having trouble finding a place within them.

I think typically Buddhists in the West have underestimated the importance of community in the development of Western forms of Buddhism. Until Buddhist communities can transition between generations, and develop their own leaders from within rather than importing teachers from overseas, I don't think we'll see the development of enduring forms of Western Buddhism- there will be sparks of innovation and interesting articles and individuals, but just as with any other evolution, it's survival over time and the reproduction of stable forms that ultimately will change the landscape of the Buddhist world more than any single teacher or book. In truth, we know the Buddha not because he was a great teacher and man of ideas, but because he knew how to structure and motivate a community. Without the Sangha, the Buddha would be another Makkhali Gosala, a name in other people's books about whom we know only the barest rumor.

Interestingly, right now, the Buddhist communities in the United States that seem to me to show the greatest signs of being well-developed into Western life are the Pure Land churches in California, some of which have been here for over 100 years. While they maintain ties to their Japanese cultural roots and have adopted some of the styles and trappings of American Protestantism, they remain distinct from both. While we see relatively little said about their contributions, in a practical sense these institutions have done as much or more to show us what Western Buddhism might look like than any number of books on self-consciously applying Western ideas to the Buddha's teachings.

They call him James Ure said...


It will be fascinating to watch any changes that might be ahead.

Simmie said...

Well, here are my views on this topic.

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