Western cultural adaptations

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism
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David N. Snyder
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Western cultural adaptations

Postby David N. Snyder » Tue Mar 11, 2014 4:42 pm

Last edited by David N. Snyder on Wed Mar 12, 2014 12:12 am, edited 1 time in total.
Reason: changed title of thread
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binocular
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Re: Western cultural baggage

Postby binocular » Tue Mar 11, 2014 4:49 pm

Agreed.

5. Compliance with modern Western science and culture, even at the expense of canonical references.

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Re: Western cultural baggage

Postby David N. Snyder » Tue Mar 11, 2014 5:02 pm

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Re: Western cultural baggage

Postby culaavuso » Tue Mar 11, 2014 6:07 pm



binocular
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Re: Western cultural baggage

Postby binocular » Tue Mar 11, 2014 7:06 pm


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Re: Western cultural baggage

Postby binocular » Tue Mar 11, 2014 7:14 pm

7. Protestant-like evangelism.

Some Buddhists, born and raised in the US, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa*** have a characteristically evangelic, forceful, superioristic, monologous, domineering attitude to teaching Buddhism to others, much like Christian missionaries have to teaching Christianity.



***Sheesh, I daren't use the term "Western Buddhist" anymore because it has so much cultural baggage that using it lands one in a minefield ...

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Re: Western cultural baggage

Postby culaavuso » Tue Mar 11, 2014 7:18 pm



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Kare
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Re: Western cultural baggage

Postby Kare » Tue Mar 11, 2014 7:27 pm

I do not quite like the expression "cultural baggage". I find it somewhat pejorative.

I would rather talk about adaptions. The Buddha taught the Dhamma in order to help people. So how can the teachings be of help for you and for me?

Some "hard core purists" will assert that the only way is to accept every bit of the teaching as it is transmitted, without regard to local culture. But in real life it never happened like that. The Buddha himself did adapt his teachings to the time and culture where he and his direct pupils lived. That is apparent from the way he gave many of the Vinaya rules. He said they were given so that the monks should conform to common people's expectations.

When Buddhism spread to cultures outside India, lots of adaptions were made to Chinese culture, to Japanese culture etc. Was that wrong? I do not think so. People needed the Dhamma to be of help in their own lives, in China or Tibet or wherever, so it was very sensible of them to make adaptions instead trying to trying to imitate the Indian way of life. This created many forms of "cultural baggage", or sensible adaptions of the Dhamma, as I would rather call it. Admittedly some of the adaptions may have been less wise, but the principle holds. Adaptions to new cultures made the Dhamma into a relevant and living force in the lives of people who were not born and bred in the Indian culture. The result is that every living tradition of Buddhism today consists of a core Dhamma with cultural adaptions added.

When Buddhism came west, other adaptions were made. It would make no sense for people born and bred in a Western culture to try to imitate Thai, Indian or Chinese culture D(although some try). Western culture is different, so it is sensible not to adopt every adaption that was made to other cultures. This means that we have to let go a lot of "cultural baggage". And in order to make the Dhamma relevant in our own lives, we have to adapt it to our own culture - we have to add some "baggage" of our own. There is nothing new in this. It has happened all through the history of Buddhism.

But it is no simple task. It may be difficult to decide if a certain point of practice or doctrine belongs to the core Dhamma or if it is the result of some Asian adaption. Therefore it is good to discuss what is the core, what is Asian adaptions, and what kind of adaptions we should make. Some of the adaptions we already have done may be good, others less so. But the principle stands. Western people have exactly the same right to adapt the Dhamma to their own lives as people in Asian cultures have been doing for thousand(s) of years. We need to study the Dhamma carefully to try to find the real core. And we should learn from the different adaptions made in the living traditions. Then we may be able to see how the core Dhamma can be fit into our own culture so that it becomes a living and transforming force in our lives. We can, and should, discuss and criticize this or that specific adaption. But this criticism should not turn into a criticism of the idea of process itself of making adaptions. "Pure and unadapted Buddhism" is a fiction that belongs in a museum.
Last edited by Kare on Tue Mar 11, 2014 7:28 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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daverupa
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Re: Western cultural baggage

Postby daverupa » Tue Mar 11, 2014 7:27 pm

:goodpost:

Scholasticism, Secular Humanism, epistemological rationalism, Romanticism, laicism... all aspects of the Western heritage which didn't exist ca 400 BCE. And the list goes on...

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Re: Western cultural baggage

Postby binocular » Tue Mar 11, 2014 7:41 pm


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Re: Western cultural baggage

Postby Aloka » Tue Mar 11, 2014 9:05 pm


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Re: Western cultural baggage

Postby Ben » Tue Mar 11, 2014 9:46 pm

David, an interesting subject and one that I have been delving into deeply, of late.
Like Kare, I would not have used the term 'baggage'. Here is so,etching that might pique some interest:

What many Americams and Europeans often understand by the term "Buddhism", however, is actually a modern hybrid tradition with roots in the European Enlightenment no less than the Buddha's enlightenment, in romanticism and transcendental ism as much as the Pali canon, and in the clash of Asian cultures and colonial powers as much as in mindfulness and meditation. Most non-Asian Americans tend to see Buddhism as a religion whose most important elements are meditation, rigorous philosophical analysis, and an ethic of compassion combined with a highly empirical psychological science that encourages reliance on individual experience. It discourages blindly following authority and dogma, and little place for superstition, magic, image worship, and gods, and is largely compatible with the findings of modern science and liberal democratic values. While this picture draws on elements of traditional forms of Buddhism that have existed in Asia for centuries, it is in many respects quite distinct from what Buddhism has meant to Asian Buddhists throughout its long and varied history. The popular western picture of Buddhism is neither unambiguously "there" in ancient Buddhist texts and lived traditions nor merely a fantasy of an educated elite population in the West, an image with no corresponding object. It is rather an actual new form of Buddhism that is the result of a process of modernisation, westernisation, reinterpretation, image-making, revitalisation, and reform that has been taking place not only in the West but also in Asian countries for over a century. This new form of Buddhism has been fashioned by modernising Asian Buddhists and western enthusiasts deeply engaged in creating Buddhist responses to the dominant problems and questions of modernity, such as epistemic uncertainty, religious pluralism, the threat of nihilism, conflicts between science and religion, war, and environmental destruction.
The emergence of Buddhist thought on these problems is the product of a unique confluence of cultures, individuals, and institutions in a time of rapid and unprecedented transformation of societies. Many modernising interpreters of Buddhism, both Asian and western, have proffered the theme of the rescue of the modern West - which they have claimed has lost its spiritual bearings through modernisation - by the humanising wisdom of the East. In order for the rescue to succeed, however, Buddhism itself had to be transformed, reformed, and modernised - purged of mythological elements and "superstitious" cultural accretions. Thus the Buddhism has become visible in the West and among urban, educated populations in Asia involve fewer rituals, deemphasises the miracles and supernatural events depicted in Buddhist literature, disposes of or reinterprets image worship, and stresses comparability with scientific, humanistic and democratic ideals. At the same time, these recent forms of Buddhism have not simply dispensed wit all traditional elements in an effort to accommodate to a changing world but have re-invented them.

-- David McMahan, The making of Buddhist modernism.
“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

(Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • •

e: [email protected]..

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Kasina
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Re: Western cultural baggage

Postby Kasina » Tue Mar 11, 2014 9:49 pm

"This world completely lacks essence;
It trembles in all directions.
I longed to find myself a place
Unscathed — but I could not see it."


Sn 4.15 PTS: Sn 935-951 "Attadanda Sutta: Arming Oneself"

"You will be required to do wrong no matter where you go... This is the curse at work, the curse that feeds on all life..."

Wilbur Mercer in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

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Re: Western cultural baggage

Postby pilgrim » Tue Mar 11, 2014 10:08 pm


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David N. Snyder
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Re: Western cultural baggage

Postby David N. Snyder » Tue Mar 11, 2014 10:09 pm

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Ben
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Re: Western cultural baggage

Postby Ben » Tue Mar 11, 2014 10:14 pm

“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

(Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • •

e: [email protected]..

culaavuso
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Re: Western cultural baggage

Postby culaavuso » Tue Mar 11, 2014 10:34 pm



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Re: Western cultural baggage

Postby Anagarika » Tue Mar 11, 2014 10:59 pm


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Re: Western cultural baggage

Postby daverupa » Tue Mar 11, 2014 11:08 pm


culaavuso
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Re: Western cultural baggage

Postby culaavuso » Tue Mar 11, 2014 11:23 pm

Last edited by culaavuso on Tue Mar 11, 2014 11:25 pm, edited 1 time in total.



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