An American Buddhist Tradition

Theravāda in the 21st century - modern applications of ancient wisdom

Re: An American Buddhist Tradition

Postby PeterB » Fri Jan 14, 2011 9:49 am

If we accept the reality of evolution incidentally, and that organisms and languages evolve to meet needs, then the internalisation of key Pali terms could be seen as a logical neccessity as English speakers encounter a new conceptual world.

Keats describes beautifully the encounter between cultures in his poem " On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer " where he compares his discovering of the culture of ancient Greece with the discovery of a new planet, or with the exploration of the New World by Europeans and describes the men of Cortez's expedition seeing the Pacific ( from a european perspective... a whole new ocean ! ) for the first time and falling " silent, upon a peak in Darien."
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Re: An American Buddhist Tradition

Postby Nibbida » Sat Jan 15, 2011 3:29 am

Ten Emerging Trends
in
Western Dharma

by Lama Surya Das



For a number of years now, I have been observing religious trends and the transplantation of Asian Buddhism into the fertile fields of the Western world. From my particular vantage point, I observe what I call trends in Western Buddhism or American Dharma.

Speaking of the emerging Western Buddhism, there are many colorful, smaller threads woven into the larger tapestry. There seem to be groups variously emphasizing monastic Buddhism, lay Buddhism, ethnic Buddhism, meditation Buddhism, chanting Buddhism, ritualistic Buddhism and bare bones Buddhism; there is mystical Buddhism and practical Buddhism, academic Buddhism, therapeutic Buddhism, intellectual Buddhism, as well as anti-intellectual, no-mind Buddhism.



Some people are attracted to hermitage and retreat Buddhism, congregational Buddhism, socially engaged Buddhism, missionary Buddhism, health and healing oriented Buddhism, upper-middle path Buddhism, Jewish Buddhism, Christian Zen Buddhism, vegetarian Buddhism, pacifist Buddhism, tantric Crazy Wisdom Buddhism, to name a few.

The Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh said, "The forms of Buddhism must change so that the essence of Buddhism remains unchanged. This essence consists of living principles that cannot bear any specific formulation."

In The Awakening of the West: The Encounter of Buddhism and Western Culture, Stephen Batchelor writes, "Buddhism cannot be said to be any of the following: a system of ethics, philosophy, or psychology; a religion, a faith, or a mystical experience; a devotional practice, a discipline of meditation or a psychotherapy. Yet it can involve all these things."

Like him I know there is really no such thing as Buddhism; there are only Buddhists. When I speak of the ten trends on Western Buddhism, I therefore do so with certain reservations, not the least among them that I am primarily emphasizing meditation practice groups. Remember, these are emerging trends and there is still a way to go to fulfill this vision.

Trend #1. Meditation-based and Experientially Oriented
As Westerners, we typically come to Buddhism for meditation and contemplation in an attempt to improve our quality of life. We want to bring more mindfulness to what we do. We are usually attracted to Buddhism not through academia but because we want personal transformation, direct religious experience and compassion into our daily lives. The Dharma is not just something we believe in, but something we do.

Trend #2 Lay-Oriented
Although there is certainly room for traditional monasticism -- both short - and long-term -- Buddhism in the West is obviously much more lay-oriented than it has been historically. Practitioners are now bringing personal issues of relationships, family and work to the Dharma center in an effort to make more sense out of life.

Trend #3. Gender Equal
In an effort to go beyond traditional patriarchal structures and cultures, we have already make great strides in supporting women as well as men in teaching and leadership roles. There are more and more women teachers, and they are providing some of the finest teaching. Gender equality remains an ideal, but one that seems reachable. We all -- male and female -- have an opportunity to refine our more feminine aspects and practice a Buddhism in which we keep the heart and mind balanced, respectful of both body and soul. We are trying to learn from the past so as not to unwittingly repeat the mistakes of others.

Trend #4. Democratic and Egalitarian
Western Buddhism needs to evolve in a much less institutionalized, less hierarchical and more democratic fashion. Almost by definition, personal growth and the purest interests of the individual are going to be stressed more than institutional preservation and growth.

Trend #5. Essentialized, Simplified and Demystified
For the most part, noticeably absent from Western Buddhism are the complex, esoteric rites and arcane rituals designed for initiates only. Western teachers generally stress essence more than form, as well as teachings that are tolerant for daily life. It is thus practical and this world oriented, rather than otherworldly and hermetic, with great emphasis on integrating Dharma practice via mindfulness and compassion into daily life.

Trend #6. Nonsectarian
Most Westerners seem to have a true appreciation for many different meditation techniques and traditions. We have seen how politics, the quest for power, and sectarian bias have created chaos within various religious communities. We understand it is essential that we strive diligently not to fall into those same traps. As practitioners, we are generally interested in broadening and deepening our experience of the various different Buddhist spiritual practices. I think it is safe to say that there is a true appreciation of the benefits of nonsectariansim, ecumenicism and cross-fertilization. In fact, many teachers are already synthesizing the best of the various traditions. American karma is our great melting pot. We have to live with that and make the most of it.

Trend #7. Psychologically Astute
There is a growing appreciation for explaining Buddhist principles within the idiom of transformational psychology. Faith and devotion are important and useful for some, but the larger appeal is to the individual’s spiritual development and psychological and emotional well-being. Dharma students are encouraged to bring spirituality into their lives as opposed to using spirituality as a way of avoiding personal issues. We are working on ourselves and there are any number of interdisciplinary tools and methods. Psychotherapy and Buddhism are most often taken as complementary.

Trend #8. Exploratory
In line with our scientific and skeptical upbringing, questioning and inquiry are encouraged. We are striving to be dynamic and forward-looking. I see contemporary Dharma as basically a non-dogmatic Dharma, which is inquiring, skeptical, rational and devoted to testing and finding out for ourselves. Western Dharma is trying to stretch beyond dogma, insularity, isolationism and fundamentalist thinking.

Trend #9. Community Oriented
Through our shared spiritual, ethical, and educational interests, we are strengthened and building our spiritual community as well as our connections to each other. There is a great emphasis on the needs of the Sangha in the sense of the larger community instead of individual priests and leaders. One day, Ananda asked the Buddha, "Is it true that the Sangha, the community of spiritual friends, is half of the holy life?"

Buddha answered, "No, Ananda, the Sangha community is the whole of holy life."

Spiritual friends, spiritual friendships and simple friendliness -- this is the holy life. Here in the West where more and more people are expressing their personal needs for spiritual growth, it is the challenge of the Sangha today to provide spiritual encouragement for generations to come.

Trend #10. Socially and Ecologically Conscious
Gandhi once said, "Those who say the religion has nothing to do with politics do not understand religion." Increasingly as Buddhists we are attempting to extend our sense of social and moral responsibility to include others, particularly those who are suffering from various injustices and deprivations. We are also searching for ways to express our deep concern for the natural world. The contemporary lay Sangha is like an interdisciplinary "Lobby for Wisdom and Compassion."

The Dharma is very suited to a Western way of life. It need not be complicated, mysterious or fancy. Buddha Dharma is ordinary life including everything from meditation to relationship yoga and parenting practice. Among other things, it involves itself with the body-mind connection, which might well include suggestions like eating right, exercising right and having a sense of humor. One of my teachers, the late Dudjom Rinpoche, once said, "The Dharma is not fancy. It’s like blue jeans: good for every occasion, every day. It’s good for work. It’s good for school. You can wear blue jeans to a wedding, to ride horses, anytime."



http://www.orientalia.org/article586.html
"Dispositions of the mind, like limbs of the body, acquire strength by exercise." --Thomas Jefferson

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Re: An American Buddhist Tradition

Postby Kim OHara » Sat Jan 15, 2011 4:46 am

Nibbida wrote:
Ten Emerging Trends in Western Dharma
by Lama Surya Das

For a number of years now, I have been observing religious trends and the transplantation of Asian Buddhism into the fertile fields of the Western world. From my particular vantage point, I observe what I call trends in Western Buddhism or American Dharma...

http://www.orientalia.org/article586.html

Thanks, Nibbida.
I can see all of these trends here in Australia, too.
A lot of them, IMO, can be seen as a process of the dhamma adapting to its new host culture, which is (on the whole) rationalist/scientific/secular and egalitarian/democratic/participatory - at least as compared to the Asian cultures we are acquiring it from. I don't think the process needs to be encouraged or guided but nor do I think it should automatically be opposed.
:namaste:
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Re: An American Buddhist Tradition

Postby Kim OHara » Sat Jan 15, 2011 5:20 am

PeterB wrote:
Kim O'Hara wrote:... please don't ask why people 'can't use Pali': Pali (or any other foreign/old language) without translation at some point might as well be Martian.
As we know, Buddhist concepts were translated into Chinese via the nearest equivalent terms in contemporary Chinese thought. We are not any different. (See also the Buddhism/Romanticism thread: Germany around 1900 was no different either.)

:namaste:
Kim

... to translate a term like dukkha or tanha requires at least a paragraph in English, [so] it is easier and quicker in the long run to internalise the key concepts of Dhamma ( another word that requires a lengthy para in English to convey its nuances ) in Pali.

Hello, Peter,
You seem not to see that, whichever way you go about it, a translation into English is a necessary part of the process of transferring understanding of a Pali original term into the mind of any person who is not fluent in Pali. The conversation has moved on a bit, but I think this point is important enough to return to.
Taking 'Dukkha' as our example, since it seems peculiarly appropriate (and reading very carefully :tongue: ) ...
Option 1: 'Dukkha' is translated as 'suffering' by one who teaches in English and the majority of his/her dhamma students never experience 'dukkha'.
Option 2: 'Dukkha' is presented as a new word by the teacher, explained at length when it is introduced (there's your translation), and then used continually within the group. 'Dukkha', from that point onwards, functions as an English word (since it is a word used in conversations and books in English), and in fact it becomes a 'loan word' like 'espresso' and 'cafe' and 'verandah'. One could say that it has thereby been 'translated' (literally 'carried across'), albeit in a different way, into English.

I suppose we could suggest a third way -
Option 3: 'Dukkha' is used but never translated. Students experience dukkha until they either leave the teacher who insists on using gibberish for a key point of the teachings, or intuit its meaning from context.
- but I don't think Option 3 is an option.

As far as I can see, the only way of explaining 'dukkha' to an English speaker without translating 'dukkha' into English is to teach them enough Pali that you can explain it to them in Pali. Full credit to those of us who are fluent in Pali (our guides and mentors in anything to do with the scriptures), but that - call it Option 4 if you like - is not an option either for the vast majority of English speakers.

Your thoughts?
:namaste:
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Re: An American Buddhist Tradition

Postby PeterB » Sat Jan 15, 2011 9:25 am

If the students think they have never experienced Dukkha then they do not understand Dukkha, and will continue to misunderstand Dukkha until they A) adopt in a formal way thiose practices prescribed by the Buddha for the realisation of the nature of Dukkha and B) internalised the meaning of Dukkha. Instead they will substite a series of poor translations...like "suffering"
Buddha Dhamma will never have mass appeal in the west. It will find those ready for it.
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Re: An American Buddhist Tradition

Postby Kim OHara » Sat Jan 15, 2011 11:17 am

PeterB wrote:If the students think they have never experienced Dukkha then they do not understand Dukkha, and will continue to misunderstand Dukkha until they A) adopt in a formal way thiose practices prescribed by the Buddha for the realisation of the nature of Dukkha and B) internalised the meaning of Dukkha. Instead they will substite a series of poor translations...like "suffering"
Buddha Dhamma will never have mass appeal in the west. It will find those ready for it.

Hi, Peter,
I did warn you to read very carefully ... I said the majority of his/her dhamma students never experience 'dukkha', i.e.( bearing in mind the quotation marks) the students never hear the word 'dukkha'.
It was a bit naughty of me (and I'm a bit sorry) but I couldn't resist playing with language in a post about the traps of language; I figured your language skills were such that you would not only cope with it but enjoy it.
Never mind - would you like to try again? Putting my challenge plainly: I can't describe a transmission of Pali concepts to non=Pali speakers which does not involve, at some point, translating them into the local language. Can you?
:namaste:
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Re: An American Buddhist Tradition

Postby PeterB » Sat Jan 15, 2011 4:57 pm

As an interim, a transitional phase, it is likely to be essential that things are then translated ( probably inadequately ) into a modern european language as a step towards encouraging the internalisation of the Pali.

Hence " dukkha " rendered as "suffering ," as a rough hewed shaping of the concept...the more subtle meaning/s will come later.
If we stay at " sufferering" much will be lost.

You can "play" and be" naughty " as much as you like.
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Re: An American Buddhist Tradition

Postby Kim OHara » Sun Jan 16, 2011 11:03 am

PeterB wrote:As an interim, a transitional phase, it is likely to be essential that things are then translated ( probably inadequately ) into a modern european language as a step towards encouraging the internalisation of the Pali.

Hence " dukkha " rendered as "suffering ," as a rough hewed shaping of the concept...the more subtle meaning/s will come later.
If we stay at " sufferering" much will be lost.

So you favour my Option 1 initially, to be followed asap by Option 2?
Kim wrote:Option 1: 'Dukkha' is translated as 'suffering' by one who teaches in English and the majority of his/her dhamma students never experience 'dukkha'.
Option 2: 'Dukkha' is presented as a new word by the teacher, explained at length when it is introduced (there's your translation), and then used continually within the group. 'Dukkha', from that point onwards, functions as an English word (since it is a word used in conversations and books in English), and in fact it becomes a 'loan word' like 'espresso' and 'cafe' and 'verandah'. One could say that it has thereby been 'translated' (literally 'carried across'), albeit in a different way, into English.

Once we know we are in agreement here, we can get off this detour and rejoin the main track of the topic, knowing that the transmission of the dhamma must, as I said, be affected by translation into the new local language.
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Re: An American Buddhist Tradition

Postby PeterB » Sun Jan 16, 2011 2:12 pm

I have read your views Kim O Hara , you have read mine, whether they are in agreement is not particularly important.
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Re: An American Buddhist Tradition

Postby appicchato » Sun Jan 16, 2011 2:35 pm

Ahhh, the internet... :popcorn:
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Re: An American Buddhist Tradition

Postby Kim OHara » Mon Jan 17, 2011 4:46 am

appicchato wrote:Ahhh, the internet... :popcorn:

Never mind, bhante, it's as impermanent as everything else ... perhaps more impermanent, actually :smile:
And I think we can get back to the topic now. Perhaps someone would like to pick up on Pannsikhara's point a few posts back: "Another major issue in my eyes is simply that of vocab, particularly of mental states, and states of non-usual consciousness. We've largely pathologized these in English, it seems."
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Re: An American Buddhist Tradition

Postby Kim OHara » Thu Jan 27, 2011 9:39 am

This lecture by Gombrich - http://www.ocbs.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=144:comfort-or-challenge&catid=29:articles-archive&Itemid=121 is relevant to this thread, I think.

Thanks to Pilgrim for starting a thread about it here http://www.dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=14&t=7091.
:namaste:
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