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Lions Roar : July 2007
SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2007 13 Editorial: Beyond American Buddhism FLIPPING THROUGH CHANNELS in a hotel room not long ago, I lingered at Jeopardy for a while and no- ticed the category “Buddhism’s Eightfold Path” (For $1000: “In a 1999 film they were ‘Cruel’; for Buddhists they should be ‘Right.’” Answer: Intentions). The same day, my brother called to tell me that as of that day, March 15, “Vajrayana” had been added to the Oxford English Dictionary (along with technopreneur, Tae-bo, benchpress, edamame, fricking, and tighty-whities; the dictionary is a great lesson in equanimity). Not long after, I was reading yet another magazine article touting the benefits of meditation and talking about Buddhism almost as a modern technology. As Buddhism’s credibility and influence continues to spread in the West, it will become enmeshed in the culture. The acceptance of Buddhism that many of us have wished for will become a reality. But that accep- tance will bring an inevitable hyper-simplification of Buddhism. When greeting cards start to contain miniature Buddhist homilies (“May loving-kindness touch you and yours”) and banal and meaningless sayings like “Have a nice day” are attributed to the Buddha, we will know that Buddhism has become fully integrated into consumer culture. Trivialization and misrepresentation are inevitable byproducts of the full-fledged entry of anything valu- able into modern Western culture. I would be worry- ing about it much more—rather than chortling about it—if it were not for the fact that there is also a strong current of profound Buddhist teaching and practice that continues to sink deep roots in the West. In this, the Shambhala Sun’s eighth All Buddhist Teachings Issue, we present a full spectrum of the teachings in- spired by the Buddha’s realization. Most of the teachers in this issue are from the West and all of them teach here extensively. They present bodies of teaching that emerged from China, Japan, India, Tibet, Korea, Burma, and Thailand. These traditions have been reconstituted in North America and exist side by side here in a way that they never did in any country in the East. You can choose to take part in any of them or all of them without journeying halfway across the globe to join a monastery or seek out the great master. As you read the teachings in this issue, you will find that they speak to you of truth that has nothing to do with where you come from, where you grew up, or where you shop. Perhaps this is the American Buddhism that many have called for. But this American Buddhism is not a single Buddhism reconfigured to meet the needs of people raised on constitutional democracy and individual rights. It is rather an array of Buddhisms that co-exist and interrelate, that can maintain their separate streams and yet talk with each other—and appear one after another in a magazine. In the end, though, American Buddhism per se will be a brief phase. Its real value will be as a seed bank and an incubator for all the magnificent Buddhist traditions that have emigrated here. In a recent panel discussion I moderated for our sister publication Buddhadharma, one of the teachers who has been in the West the lon- gest, Eido Shimano Roshi, said that “in the modern world, with the industrial revolution and capitalism spread all over the world, there is no East, no West.” In America itself, Buddhist practitioners will more and more include people of diverse ethnic backgrounds. What is most important, then, is not to adapt Bud- dhism so that it can meet particular cultural needs, but rather to foster genuine Buddhism that tran- scends the culture of East or West. And that ought to be a worldwide effort, part of what has been called the “new cosmopolitanism.” In the end, then, perhaps we can forget about American Buddhism, and focus on fostering authen- tic Buddhist practice, here and everywhere. When Buddhism is once again on the ascendant in the countries of its birth and development, the need for authentic Buddhism as opposed to trivial Buddhism will be the same. Through practicing wholeheartedly here, we can contribute to the growth of an authentic global Buddhism. — BARRY BOYCE