August 18, 2010

David Nichtern on the Future of Buddhism in the West

VIA the Huffington Post,

The essence of Buddhism, I think most Buddhists would agree, is to cultivate awareness and compassion and to explore our existence in an open and unbiased way. In some sense Buddhism has always been what we Westerners would consider a fusion of religion and science. There are no articles of faith, there is no dogma, nothing to believe without verification. Buddhism is considered a non-theistic tradition, and from that point of view it should mix well with scientific, technological and rationalist thought.

Over the past 50 years or so, the Buddhist teachings have taken root (to a certain extent) in our Western culture. Many great teachers have worked hard to translate these teachings and practices into English and European languages and into forms that are accessible to Western students. Within some Buddhist schools, on the other hand, the students have been required to learn the traditional forms in their original language and cultural setting.

The process of transplanting the Buddhist teachings in the West seems to have evolved in several different ways:

1. The traditional form is transplanted, takes root and grows (e.g., a Zen monastery in the West where the chants are recited in Japanese and to a large extent the original forms are copied precisely).

2. A hybrid plant, a mix of the original Asian culture and language and the "host" culture and language, grows. For example, the Shambhala Buddhist lineage (which I am part of) has mixed certain elements of Tibetan Buddhism and Bon with certain uplifted aspects of European and American traditions.

3. Complete transformation of the original traditions into Western modalities (e.g., well-being, medical, psychological, holistic, new age, healing, stress management, relaxation, mindfulness, etc.) where the language and cultural flavor is overwhelmingly Western with perhaps only a faint trace of the Asian traditions that perhaps inspired these approaches.

Continued...

Read the rest of the article here.

David Nichtern

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Clark Strand's picture

For me these are the most significant sentences in David's piece:

"It might be too early to talk about "American Buddhism." History tells us that it could take several hundred years to really have some perspective on this kind of evolution."

This is almost certainly true. The argument is sometimes made that, with jet travel, the Internet, and social networking media, the process of assimilating and developing a distinctly American Buddhist culture could be speeded up somewhat. But I think there's really no substitute for time when it comes to this kind of transmission, which is measured by generations, not by years.

On the other hand, it seems safe to say that there is already a fairly well-established Buddhist culture in America. It just hasn't assumed anything like its optimal, enduring form yet. It's constantly changing before our eyes. Which is good, I suppose--American Buddhism in seach of itself.

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[...] Tricycle » David Nichtern on the Future of Buddhism in the West tricycle.com/blog/?p=2198 – view page – cached The essence of Buddhism, I think most Buddhists would agree, is to cultivate awareness and compassion and to explore our existence in an open and unbiased way. In some sense Buddhism has always been what we Westerners would consider a fusion of religion and science. There are no articles of faith, there is no dogma, nothing to believe without verification. Buddhism is considered a... Read moreThe essence of Buddhism, I think most Buddhists would agree, is to cultivate awareness and compassion and to explore our existence in an open and unbiased way. In some sense Buddhism has always been what we Westerners would consider a fusion of religion and science. There are no articles of faith, there is no dogma, nothing to believe without verification. Buddhism is considered a non-theistic tradition, and from that point of view it should mix well with scientific, technological and rationalist thought. View page Tweets about this link [...]