Wednesday, July 03, 2013

What *is* American Buddhism anyway?

Justin Whitaker writes,

The story of Buddhism has always been one of adaptation and transformation. This month I am inviting a discussion about how Buddhism has adapted to and transformed America (that is, the Americas) with optional special attention to climate and climate change. 
Given the ongoing heatwave in the southwestern United States and the tragic consequences of a fire in Arizona yesterday, it only seems appropriate that as we reflect on our nations and Buddhism here, that we also consider how Buddhist principles and practices can go toward solving this growing crisis.

I'll be honest: I'm not sure what exactly is the discussion here.  Yeah, there's certain trendy things in psychology based on mindfulness bouncing around...that's a Western-besides-the-Americas thing, no? And regarding climate change and other political/environmental issues, I think American Buddhism is no less marginally useful per se in defining one political stance contra another.   Really, what do you think Edward Snowden's allegedly espoused Buddhism is why he's sort of stateless right now?  Isn't that a bit grandiose? How about Ted Kaczynski's brother's Buddhism? 

If I give you a testimonial about how "Buddhist practice helped me with X, and it can help the world with Y," I'll be doing a disservice to all concerned, despite the fact that yeah, it is a better path than the alternative, and worthy of dedicated practice.

I'm doing American Buddhism not-as-well-as-I'd-like in my own life, and those in my sangha are doing their own American Buddhism, and those in related sanghas are doing their own American Buddhism.

But maybe I ought to get to a comment that Thomas Armstrong wrote on my blog in response to the post on authenticity, because I think it bears examination, especially in regards to the above questions.   There's people in American Buddhism who are  nice.  They can be rather blissful.  There's also people in American Buddhism who aren't always nice.  Both groups of people though are certainly wounded, and perhaps like all of humanity, wounded deeply and condemned to be mortally wounded, whether it be through violence, sickness, or old age. 

I don't want bliss, or  nice in my practice.  It would be, um, nice, though,  in the midst of seeing into the nature of self that there was  just some authentic improvement relaxation and equanimity in the face of the inevitable.   And actually, "American" Buddhism didn't go there that much in that aspect (I had to learn some of that via other means that aren't strictly "Buddhist" at all, but not at all incompatible with it.) American or not, I, myself, had and have  to learn how to not give a hoot so much despite the Big Wound (whatever it is, and regardless of whether it merits the name, it's there).  But regardless of my degree of relaxation and equanimity or lack thereof, regarding practice, it is indeed what it is. 

But yet, yeah, that's American Buddhism.  One of many. Including "the Asians'" American Buddhism.

To return briefly to the climate change topic: humanity might or might not respond appropriately, and I'm not sure Buddhism has so much to do to with it potentially as the exercise of naked political power.   Japan, Buddhist and Shinto, reforested itself because it had a powerful aristocracy that could do so.  Spain did not, despite another powerful aristocracy.  Was it because Japan was Buddhist and Shinto and Spain was not? 

I doubt it, but what I don't doubt is that as the orders went out to reforest, the guys who transmitted the orders weren't nice and peaceful and blissful. I also don't think the orders to to deal decisively with Christian missionary imperialists were transmitted in a nice, peaceful and blisssful way either. 

1 comment:

Thomas Armstrong said...

Yo, Mumon. I'm not sure what the discussion is either -- ANY of the discussions.

But I do think that "nice" is a problem that only seems to grow. It grows because newbees -- but not only them -- are attracted to nice and seek it out and are willing to pay big money for it in Buddhist quarters.

Nice is a get-out-of-jail-free card, like Jesus paying for all your sins.

All you have to do is be nicer than nice with teeth whiter than white and everybody will like you. But, of course, these things morph -- just like Buddhism morphs. Nicer-than-nice goes out of style so you have to leap into "edgy nice" until the era of that runs out. Then, like a fleet fullback, you zip over to "gothic (full-color-spectrum tats) nice" ... and on and on it goes.

Everything is who you're pretending to be. Enlightenment is getting your screen-actors' guild card.