David N. Snyder wrote:There are some who have argued that for Buddhism to survive, it needed to go West. For many of us in the West, we wanted a Buddhism without too much ritual and cultural trappings. Some argue that this would be more in line with the Buddhism of the 6th century BCE. Tibetan Buddhism has a lot of those depictions of deities, but they are not found so much or at all in Theravada or Zen. Perhaps you just need to find the school of Buddhism that resonates with you more.
Thank you, I do think that Theravada or Zen aesthetics might be more attractive for a lot of people in the West. However, I do not really have any issues with the concept of deities, or with ritual, or with any other features of Tibetan tradition. In fact, it was one of the things that originally drew me to it. So it is a bit difficult for me.
seeker242 wrote:Yes, westerners can truly become Buddhists. Buddhism isn't about culture, art or symbols, it's about dharma. Dharma is universal. To think that a person can never understand the dharma, because of where they are born, is not that different than Brahmins thinking they are better just because they were born Brahmins. The Buddha declared that as simply false. The Brahmins themselves declared that the untouchables could never attain much spiritually, simply because they were born untouchables. The Buddha declared that as false. Someone declaring that you can't attain the dharma, because of where you were born, is not very different than the Brahmins declaring that about the untouchables. One could argue it's basically the same thing.
But isn't one of marks of favourable rebirth "being born in a central country"? Are we sure that our countries really qualify at the moment? Maybe we are close to those "barbarians", rebirth among whom is considered to be quite unfavourable? I do not say that it means that all of us are completely incapable of Dharma practice. But I see serious obstacles, which people born into traditionally Buddhist societies do not face.
When people start to speak about "Western Buddhism", it usually causes some negative reaction, both from lay Buddhists and even some Buddhist teachers (I recall an interview with Thinley Norbu Rinpoche where he said, basically, that Western people are always trying to invent something new, even when there is no need for it). I suppose that's because most of advocates of Western Buddhism seem very keen on removing any elements of the Buddhist worldview that they are uncomfortable with, turning it into something like Steven Batchelor's Buddhism-Without-Everything-That-Makes-It-Buddhism. This is not my position at all. I would say that I am rather traditionalist where it comes to the actual content of the teachings, and it is my firm position that we should keep Buddhist teachings as they are, with deities, rebirth, heavens, hells, and everything else. Who are we to to judge what is necessary and what is not? It's simply hubris.
But, I look at countries like China, Japan and so on, and I see that the outer shell of the doctrine was heavily adapted every single time. Art style was changed to fit local conventions. Deity names were translated into local languages. Local gods were absorbed into the pantheon and many of them identified with Buddhas and Boddhisattvas. Even monk clothing was changed.
Now, I do not really notice any of this happening currently in the West. I do not see any deity images drawn according to Western artistic conventions. Avalokiteshvara is Chenrezig in Tibet, Guan Yin in China, Kannon in Japan. And in the West?
Many people would say that this is good, because we preserve the tradition as it is, without it becoming corrupted and diluted. There is truth in this. But I feel that if tradition's outer form does not adapt, like it always did in the past, then Buddhism in the West will fail.
(Everyone, please note that I do use "West" as a rather simplistic umbrella term. I am aware that there are different cultures in the West, and different people with different personalities. However for the purposes of current discussion I am going with the broad generalization)