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Shall we create Western Buddhism?

by Denis Wallez (@DenisWallez)
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The Dhamma in English is at a cross-road: it is stuck between a form of naïve orthodoxy and a forceful attempt to adapt / reshape it. On one hand, people seek exotic Asian teachers —or people who at least spent much time in Asia,— onto who they too easily project integrity, authenticity and depth, due to preconceptions. On the other hand, people seek a “Western Buddhism” or even an “American Buddhism”, free from Asian cultural traits, and possibly free from whatever teaching which doesn't ‘gel’ with them (e.g. kamma, or rebirth). People seek the ‘original’ teachings, what Siddhattha Gotama taught1 or even thought2, while they also seek palatable ‘modernity.’

The result is unsavory: merchandising… cherry-picking… scandals… tokenism… and Liberation watered-down into mindfulness stripped of ethics, and tips for stress management or for well-being…

Festivals like Buddhafest arise, with celebrities (A-listers and B-listers), entertainment, partners and sponsors, and nothing which / noone who would rock the boat! Buddhist establishments obfuscate, then defend, unethical behaviours from their leaders (from Zen to Shambala). Associations of teachers mostly serve to belittle other traditions, to ‘certify’ an incestuous clique while rejecting qualified others, and to perpetuate a status quo. This is competitive business, not Dharma transmission.


Every time Buddhism reached new cultures, similar tensions occurred. Buddhism's history is filled with key figures who traveled, from Japan to China, or from China to India, to find / retrieve / access ‘true’ Buddhism… as they were critical of the Buddhism they saw in their own countries before departure. And, in turn, this was often used as a marketing trick once they returned: they would claim to have brought back some ‘untainted’ form of Buddhism, and competition between Buddhist sects could turn rough!

Many of these figures

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