In The Zen Monastic Experience, Robert Buswell points out a fact that I had never considered about the relationship between Buddhism in the East and West--that the interest in Buddhism in the West actually affects Buddhism in the East. "Indeed," Buswell writes, "Western interest in Eastern philosophy seems to have done as much to stimulate...a revival of interest in Buddhism in Korea as have the proselytizing efforts of the Chogye Order (Korea's largest Zen school) itself."
Duh, why hadn't I thought of that?
Of course Buddhism's growing popularity in the West would influence how Buddhism is practiced and viewed in the East. Why wouldn't it? Everything is interconnected and interpenetrating, so just as Western material cultural now permeates the East, the West's adoption of Eastern religions would naturally influence those religions in their native cultures.
But for some reason this blew my my mind. I had never considered that possibility.
Buswell cites several instances of Buddhist monks who ordained simply because they were inspired by Western books about Buddhism, namely Herman Hesse's Siddhartha. Imagine that: a young Korean man who has no interest in or knowledge of Buddhism decides to read a book that I teach in my English class in New Jersey thousands of miles away, and so he ordains as a monk in his local monastery.
If that isn't cool, I don't know what is.
Photo borrowed from Creative Commons flickr user: Hildeborg.