Are we "Columbusing" Buddhism?

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Joined: Thu Jan 15, 2009 8:10 pm

Are we "Columbusing" Buddhism?

Post by meindzai »

My wife and I read this article awhile ago:
'Columbusing': The Art Of Discovering Something That Is Not New
If you've danced to an Afrobeat-heavy pop song, dipped hummus, sipped coconut water, participated in a Desi-inspired color run or sported a henna tattoo, then you've Columbused something.

Columbusing is when you "discover" something that's existed forever. Just that it's existed outside your own culture, nationality, race or even, say, your neighborhood. Bonus points if you tell all your friends about it.

Why not? In our immigrant-rich cities, the whole world is at our doorsteps.

Sometimes, though, Columbusing can feel icky. When is cultural appropriation a healthy byproduct of globalization and when is it a problem?

I think the article uses bad examples and is kind of poorly written. But it does bring up some interesting points.

I used to practice "Korean Buddhism" at a zen center in Delaware, from the school of Seung Sahn.

Actually, the "zen center" was a church that we borrowed once a week. There was occasionally one korean that showed up. Mostly it was americans. We "chanted," or really sang the sutras - in korean with one in english.

The (american) people that ran the place had studied with Seung Sahn when he was alive. They would always repeat his teachings, in the same broken English that he used, because it was not his native language. "Only go straight. Have don't know mind." I went to the main zen center in (I think) Rhode Island and everybody was talking like this. It was like a badly dubbed movie.

They were nice people of course and it was good sitting with them. I was just getting into Theravada, and after a while stopped going.

I think we should all be able to benefit but Buddhism, but culturally sensitivity is required. I've spent a lot of time with Sri Lankan Buddhists and I realize there's a lot of culture there "mixed in" with my expectations of what Buddhism should look like. The Sri Lankan temples seem to be very important community centers for the Sri Lankan community. They welcome us with open arms, but I worry a bit about what would happen if they become flooded with Americans who have suddenly "discovered" Buddhism. "I meditated with these monks the other day. It was awesome!" - As if you get some kind of hipster merit badge for doing something "different." Not that I'm seeing this happen - not yet anyway.

May we all practice with sensitivity.

-Dave K
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Re: Are we "Columbusing" Buddhism?

Post by SDC »

I think “columbusing” is definitely a possibility when dealing with things that have been abstracted from the practice and taken out of their intended context (like the “industrial” mindfulness craze), and – like you said – I think it may be something that would easily arise when dealing with many of the cultural aspects that have been integrated into the practice of the dhamma. Of course respect would be very appropriate in these situations, but is quite optional. But when you are able to find the teaching at the very crux of your experience then the risk of “columbusing” it is gone because the dhamma is so immediate, apparent and so fundamentally involved with everything, making one unable to be so casual with respect to where it came from.

Welcome back, btw. :smile:
"As fruits fall from the tree, so people too, both young and old, fall when this body breaks." - Raṭṭhapāla (MN 82)
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