August 05, 2010
In today's installment of her About.com Buddhism blog, Barbara O'Brien delves into the difference between spiritual fluff and religion when it comes to Western Buddhism and voices her concerns that Buddhism in the West is in danger of being overly romanticized and watered down. O'Brien cites the Reverend Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, a minister of the United Church of Christ and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, who recently said in a post on the Washing Post's On Faith blog that much of what is presented as Buddhism to Westerners is actually "a kind of Xerox copy of Buddhism that is based on the old 'I'm Okay, You're Okay' psychology of the 1960s."
O'Brien argues that in order for spirituality to really transform your life, it must be "directed by the strength of tradition, the discipline of practice, and the wisdom of those who have gone before" and she worries that Buddhism in the West, especially Zen, is being reduced to a palatable spiritual fluff before the more serious elements of the tradition have a chance to take root:
I have two concerns. One is that many people are been so turned off by western religious institutions that they run screaming from anything that looks like a religious institution. So they cling to faux Buddhism and run away from the real thing, which is sad.
My other concern is that marshmallow fluff Buddhism will supplant the real thing before the real thing has thoroughly taken root. This is a particular danger for Zen, I think, because it did have the misfortune of becoming popularized and then romanticized in books and film, but it's something that's an issue for all of Buddhism, I think.
Is Buddhism in the West in danger of being reduced to spiritual fluff? Share your thoughts with Tricycle readers. To read more about what it will take for an authentic Buddhism to take root in the West, read Tai Situpa Rinpoche's recent Tricycle article "It Takes a Saint." If you're wondering what we mean when we say "West" or "Western," check out our recent post "Is it OK to say 'the West'?" and if you're interested in the religion vs. spirituality debate, check out "Spirituality without Religion."