January 11, 2010

Wisdom of the West

I think Westerners lack respect for their own spiritual maturity. It’s as though Asia owns spirituality, and we’re these barbarians, beseeching, “Oh, Bhante, please come over and tell us how to live.” But I’ve been to Asia, and they’re just as screwed up as we are. And there’s some real wisdom in our culture; the West has a tradition, too, of compassion and wisdom. And some people who aren’t even religious have it. When I was in Asia I totally did whatever an Asian lay person would do—I have the deepest respect for this tradition—but Asia does not have a monopoly on kindness. In Asia, being a lay person is—from the point of view of meditational practice—considered second-class. I personally think that the monastic life does optimize your possibilities for breaking through to awakening. But it’s by no means a guarantee. Most monasteries are hardly crammed full of enlightened people.

But we need a teaching that addresses the lives we actually live. We do need to handle money. We are in relationships. We do need to eat more than once a day. The problem isn’t eating or sex or money; it’s that we don’t know how to use these energies. The monastic strategy is: Don’t touch it; it’s dangerous. So the monks don’t handle money, etc. To me that’s not in-and-of-itself particularly holy. It’s a strategy—a monastic strategy to get free. I’m all for it—if you’re going to be a monastic.

- Larry Rosenberg, "The Art of Doing Nothing" (Spring 1998)

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BlindRob's picture

FTR, I, BlindRob, meant to type "early 1600s" and not "1660s". But this site doesn't allow editing: I blame someone somewhere, but not my ancestors.

BlindRob's picture

I was striving to avoid a reply here and darn it this doesn't make me feel very Buddhist, but apparently among many things Westerners are lacking is respect for our ancestors. Which, guys, would horrify most Asian folks far more than habitual nonbathing. Whatever-in the early 1660s, when the pilgrims landed, Boston had the same climate as Labrador does now. So I recommend y'all find a metal bucket, fill it with ice water, and see how much bathing you can get out of that and a wood fire.

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Adam's picture

As were the Native Americans. The Natives were so cofused by the complete lack of hygenie by the colonists that they offered to show them how to bathe themselves!

Mumon's picture

That said, many of them were taking regular baths before Europeans did.