|Photo courtesy of flickr user: Fellowship of the Rich.|
Why is that? Perhaps it's growing pains, or because many Western Buddhists, if they're not culturally Asian, feel insecure (or maybe "inadequate" might be a better word) about practicing a spiritual tradition whose ancestors hail from another part of the world than their own biological ones. I don't know.
As if Buddhism were exclusively an Asian birthright. It's not, at least not any kind of Buddhism whose aim is genuine Awakening. Buddhism is everyone's inheritance, for it points the way to our true, universal nature--Buddhahood.
Which means--at least from this perspective--that Buddhism is basically composed of a variety of skillful means aimed at helping people realize their true nature. The forms should always take back seat to waking up, not in the sense that we objectify our practice by reducing it to mere means to an ends, but in that we don't reify or become attached to the practice. We don't make it special.
When sitting meditation, sit in meditation; when driving, drive; when eating, eat.
What I am critical of is the Western Buddhist tendency to slavishly venerate the cultures that Buddhism hails from, as if everything Eastern is sacrosanct and everything Western is spiritually primitive. Part of this, at least in the Zen community, is attributable to D.T. Suzuki and his mythologizing Zen and Japanese culture. I hate to admit it, because I love his work, but Alan Watts is guilty of this too.
Too often I hear Buddhists comparing the idyllic happiness of Tibetans with the alienated, despondent plight of the American, as if Asians are somehow happier by virtue of their cultural worldview or heritage.
The Buddha identified the universal human condition as being suffused with dukkha. It's part of being human. Period. Japanese people have problems, perhaps unique to the Japanese experience, but they're not exceptions to the human condition. Neither are the Swiss or Russians or Chinese. That's what it means to be human.
But I digress.
My point is that there's a tendency in Buddhism to bash the West, and perhaps I'm guilty of this myself on this blog. In Buddhism's attempt to assert itself in America, I see two phenomena occurring: 1.) a blatant rejection of all things Western, and thus an adoption of all things Eastern; or 2.) a skim milk attempt to integrate Buddhism into Western religious traditions as if their goal or teachings are always the same.
Both irritate me, but I'll deal exclusively here with the former.
The first refers to those people in your Buddhist group who know all of the Japanese or Korean terms, and drop them ad nauseum, especially when there is a perfectly good English counterpart. Instead of kneeling meditation, it's "seiza"; instead of interview it's "dokusan."
Besides sounding pretentious, the problem is that this habit reeks of Western Buddhist anxiety, as if in order to really be considered Buddhist we need to pose as being Asian.
Here's my point: Buddhism needs to find its own course(s) in the West. Buddhism grows and adapts; it always has. So why is that process so anathema here in the West? Why is that process halted here in America? Why is America, or more broadly, the West, the exception?
I'm not proposing that we jettison the vast wealth of spiritual traditions we have inherited from our Buddhist ancestors, but I do think that organic growth is natural and necessary for the continued evolution and downright survival of Buddhism.
That means allowing Buddhism to grow in the West. Which is not to say that it won't be rife with conflict, because it will be. Take one look at Asian history and you'll see that Buddhist sects have often competed and quarreled. That's human.
But that's part of the process. It's my opinion that Buddhism needs to find its own authentic Western idiom and identity if it hopes to thrive on this soil; the alternative is an insecure, toddling Buddhism too fearful to step out of its Asian ancestors' shadow.