Traditional Western Culture/Aesthetics and Buddhism

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Traditional Western Culture/Aesthetics and Buddhism

Postby Vidyaraja » Wed Sep 18, 2013 12:54 am

As Buddhism becomes more popular in the West, it makes me wonder about the cultural aspect in relation to Western traditional culture, say in the manner of aesthetics or forms of religiosity. For example, when Islam came to China, the Chinese Sinified Islam aesthetically. Take for example the Great Mosque of Xi'an:

Image

The same can be said of the uniqueness of the Buddhist culture, aesthetics, temple architecture, etc. as it is in various cultures where Buddhism took hold. To continue with the Chinese example, Buddhist temples were constructed in the same manner of Chinese architecture, employed Chinese aesthetics, and the Buddha himself was often portrayed as an East Asian much in the same way Jesus was portrayed as a blonde haired blue eyed European in Northwestern Europe and an African in Ethiopia. However, it seems that in the West, the Buddhism that is spread often comes attached with the East Asian, Tibetan, Thai, etc. cultural and aesthetic forms, even if it is the case that the founders of these temples and all the adherents may be white Europeans. Why is there no effort to maintain traditional Western culture and integrate Buddhism into that?

For example, why not produce Buddhist temples that employ classical Greco-Roman architecture, Hellenistic sculpture, Roman mosaics, Gothic art or architecture, Baroque art or architecture, and so forth? Why not produce Buddhist scripture in the style of Insular Anglo-Celtic art or the style of medieval illuminated manuscripts? Why not have Buddhist chants that are done in the style of Gregorian chant or Western polyphony?

While I hear this Buddhist group is dodgy, here is an example of a step taken in that direction that I came across on the net. Celitc Buddhist thangkas (admittedly not that well done, but nonetheless):

http://www.celticbuddhism.org/paintings.html

At least there is an attempt in the above example to maintain Western traditional culture and integrate or synthesize Buddhism into that.

So the question is, why isn't that done today? In your opinion is there value in integrating Buddhism into Western traditional culture? Or do the Westerners that become Buddhists feel it is also better to Asianize culturally and aesthetically along with their adoption of the Dharma?
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Re: Traditional Western Culture/Aesthetics and Buddhism

Postby Johnny Dangerous » Wed Sep 18, 2013 2:21 am

I can't get the link atm.

Some imagery in Buddhism (Thangkas of more human-like deities for example) are already pretty "western", crowns, robes, sceptres..I remember reading that Buddha statuary might actually be a "western" (Greek) invention in the first place.

At least there is an attempt in the above example to maintain Western traditional culture and integrate or synthesize Buddhism into that.


Why not just let it integrate naturally, unless one is hung up on "western culture" (debatable whether such a thing really exists anyway) I don't really see the point. Really practicing Dharma doesn't have anything to do with maintenance of western culture, that's kind of another pursuit entirely, isn't it?

So the question is, why isn't that done today? In your opinion is there value in integrating Buddhism into Western traditional culture? Or do the Westerners that become Buddhists feel it is also better to Asianize culturally and aesthetically along with their adoption of the Dharma?



It's better not to worry about it, sounds flip but there you go, if you really want to be dedicated to Dharma practice then it seems to me worrying about either cultural appropriation, or cultural synthesis is outside the realm of practice, that is for various academics and cultural folks. I have never been to, or yet seen a Dharma center where anyone is expected to adopt any cultural stuff, respect it, sure...but alot of people ened up adopting it regardless, even where there is no coercion at all to do so. There are alot of teachers asking this question, but usually it seems to revolve more around communication that just external aesthetics. I can see that a "western Buddhist" form of art might develop, but if so it'll happen (IMO) due to people just doing their thing, rather than actually trying to create something new.
"Just as a lotus does not grow out of a well-levelled soil but from the mire, in the same way the awakening mind
is not born in the hearts of disciples in whom the moisture of attachment has dried up. It grows instead in the hearts of ordinary sentient beings who possess in full the fetters of bondage." -Se Chilbu Choki Gyaltsen
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Re: Traditional Western Culture/Aesthetics and Buddhism

Postby Qing Tian » Wed Sep 18, 2013 2:47 am

I think that the fact that western culture does not integrate Buddhism in the manner Vidyaraja suggests is actually a product of that western culture. From a British perspective (for example) traditionally we have a culture of adoption - with a clear tendency to take whole bits of other cultures as is. By contrast China is a culture of adaptation, where foreign things are rendered into acceptable asian form.

Is this good or bad?

Is a paradox good or bad?
“Not till your thoughts cease all their branching here and there, not till you abandon all thoughts of seeking for something, not till your mind is motionless as wood or stone, will you be on the right road to the Gate.”
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Re: Traditional Western Culture/Aesthetics and Buddhism

Postby Kim O'Hara » Wed Sep 18, 2013 3:50 am

Good question, and with good responses already. I will throw in another factor which I think is relevant - that what happened in the past is not a good guide to what should/will happen now, because our culture is far more diverse - multicultural, in fact - than almost any culture any time before, say, 1950.
Example one: I live in a country of 20 million people. One million of them live overseas. Another five million were born overseas but live here now.
Example two: the global movie industry - Anime and "Crouching Tiger" in the West, Hollywood everywhere.
Example three: you can get by in English in just about any major city in the world - and buy :toilet: Macca's there too.
Eaxample four: you're reading it :tongue:

:coffee:
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Re: Traditional Western Culture/Aesthetics and Buddhism

Postby Vidyaraja » Wed Sep 18, 2013 4:41 am

Johnny Dangerous wrote:Really practicing Dharma doesn't have anything to do with maintenance of western culture, that's kind of another pursuit entirely, isn't it?


The acceptance of the cultural trappings of various forms of Buddhism from Asia doesn't have to do with practicing the Dharma either. Why shouldn't a group of people wish to maintain their culture? Seems to me that it is an instinct and value among almost all human groups.

Kim O'Hara wrote:I will throw in another factor which I think is relevant - that what happened in the past is not a good guide to what should/will happen now, because our culture is far more diverse - multicultural, in fact - than almost any culture any time before, say, 1950.


Multiculturalism results from non-Westerners immigrating and bringing their cultures into the West. Western culture is its own unique culture (Romano-Germanic culture, the Occident, etc.) Thus I think it would be appropriate to say that Western nations are multicultural, but Western culture is not, unless the designation multicultural refers to the various Western cultural groups which exist now and historically such as French culture, German culture, Italian culture, English culture, etc.
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