There is a lot to be said about the add-on quality of so-called culture when it comes to honest Buddhism. I too have been critical and cranky and asked questions like, "what the hell does culture have to do with Dharma?" I was disdainful of the efforts to reduce Buddhism to another religion or other social adjunct.
But these days, I see my earlier approach as mistaken, or perhaps right for the wrong reasons. Sorry if I haven't got the energy to spell out every comma and semi-colon, but this is how I see it:
Those who practice Buddhism live in one culture or another. They are the product of one culture or another. This is just a fact. It has no "good" or "bad" to it: Water is wet, that's all. Each culture provides its own biases and those biases are bound to enter a Buddhist practice. Each of us probably knows a culture that will imply that its "Buddhism" is the "true Buddhism." It's nonsense, but it's not much different from my nonsense.
The good thing about a Buddhist practice is that it encourages us to examine our own nonsense. It is better to admit and examine the wetness of water than it is to have protracted discussions about some imaginary "dry water," some distinct and distinguishable "Dharma." I am, for example, an American. It would be ignorant and lazy if I were to ignore or not examine that fact.
I say, "I am American" and Buddhism asks mildly, "Who is an American?" It's not a matter of criticism or distinction, of purity or impurity. It's just a question that a Buddhist might consent to answer. If I were to assert that American Buddhism has the one true and pure answer, that would be idiotic. But it would be equally idiotic not to concede and examine my American-ness, my nonsense. After all, it's the only game in town: Pretending I am not American or that there is some elegant and pristine "Dharma" outside this American would be to turn Buddhism into some kind of religion, some kind of cultural gimcrack.
Bottom line (since I don't want to blither on forever) in my book: Everyone uses the lies at hand in order to discover the truth. Maybe it's a cultural lie, maybe it's a Buddhist lie, maybe it's a holy lie ... I don't know. The point is that it is the shit that grows the lotus and imagining that the lotus grows in some airy-fairy vacuum that is filled with milk and honey ... well, I suppose that is more good shit, but it certainly can be confusing. Buddhism encourages us to examine and take responsibility. That's its genius, for my money.
If any of that makes sense ....
Last edited by genkaku
on Tue Jan 20, 2009 9:03 pm, edited 1 time in total.