Saturday, April 15, 2017

Caveats, Corrections, and Clarifications

This is a new feature for the TWW Blog with the hope of adding a little more coherence to the line up.  Under the title of “Caveats, Corrections, and Clarifications” I will be outlining my pet peeves about Buddhism’s “coming to the West.”  Being aware of the processes of accommodation, acclimation, and acculturation that occur in transplanting Buddha Dharma into another culture is my primary concern.  The Buddha Dharma is the teaching of how mind awakens.  This awakening is not bound to any particular culture and is universally available to and inherent within each and every single person and living being. 

One of the most important factors in Buddhism’s arrival in the West is the necessity of disentangling the cultural aspects of Buddha Dharma from those aspects that are the common denominator of the human mind, i.e., the Buddha aspects. This happens whenever Buddhism enters a new cultural context.  It happened whenever and wherever Buddhism spread beyond the region where the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama Shakyamuni, actually walked as a living, breathing, spiritual mendicant, e.g., into the areas now known as Southern India, Northwestern India, Southeast Asia, Ancient Gandhara, Centeral Asia. China, Mongolia, Tibet, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam.

The core problem is that we mostly do not know what is cultural and what is mind. As Buddhism spread throughout the regions of Asia, there was a general cultural communication that facilitated the transplanting of Buddha Dharma without a head on collision of cultural themes.  For example, Buddhism moves relatively easily into a culture that has either an animistic-shamanistic or pluralistic-pantheistic approach, because it can either become one more view among others in a panoply of perspective, or can integrate the perspective of the mind’s awakening within the preexisting metaphors of awakening in a shamanistic cultural matrix. 

But Buddhism has more difficulty in cultures that worship and idolize an anthropomorphic monotheistic hegemonic God, such as the three Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  It is therefore historically significant that Buddhism is now able to come to the West, only after the West has had its own form of “Enlightenment” wherein the Dharma of Science has been able to free its own culture from the dogmatic rule of an anthropomorphic God.    

This current historical condition now presents problems of its own for Buddha Dharma coming to the West, as now practitioners of Buddha Dharma must take advantage of the cultural space created between the old precincts dominated by the God-religion and the new fields of the scientific worldview, while at the same time addressing the concerns of each.  Buddhism’s finding its place in the West between the polarization of an other-worldly God religion and a worldly science is analogous to Buddhism’s finding its place in China between the preexisting forms of Taoism and Confucianism. 

Part of the difficulty will be for Buddha Dharma to simultaneously shed the Indian, Chinese Tibetan, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese cultural encrustations, yet remember and retain Buddha Dharma itself.  As we wash off the cultural accretions, this of course presents us with the paradigmatic conundrum of not throwing the baby out with the bath water.   As just one example, we can see in the West that some adherents to a materialistic scientific worldview misperceive karma and rebirth as merely cultural aspects of Buddha Dharma that can be jettisoned.  But as I see it, we have in the scientific field of psychology the common denominator of the study of the psyche with which Buddha Dharma can ally itself to show us that in the scientific study of mind, every single human culture that has existed has some form of teaching about karma and rebirth, e.g., the Christian teaching of “you reap what you sow.”  
For instance, in 1939 Carl G. Jung wrote an essay titled "Concerning Rebirth" recognizing that the concept of rebirth has various aspects and outlining five categories of rebirth as psychological forms that the archetype of rebirth manifests itself.  Jung points out that rebirth is not a materialistically measurable phenomenon, it can't be weighed or photographed, but it is a "purely psychic reality." Jung said,

Rebirth is an affirmation that must be counted among the primordial affirmations of mankind. These primordial affirmations are based on what I call archetypes. In view of the fact that all affirmations relating to the sphere of the suprasensual are, in the last analysis, invariably determined by archetypes, it is not surprising that a concurrence of affirmations concerning rebirth can be found among the most widely differing peoples. There must be psychic events underlying these affirmations which it is the business of psychology to discuss--without entering into all the metaphysical and philosophical assumptions regarding their significance. [The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, The Collected Works of C. G. Jung, Vol. 9.1, Par. 207.]
Therefore by recognizing the role of psychology we can scientifically determine that karma and rebirth are not merely cultural notions to be discarded but are archetypes of the universal collective unconscious that is the foundation of all cultures, and both karma and rebirth can be scientifically and personally studied today, with the 2500 year history of such Buddhist study providing insights for us today .    

For this series, the heading “Caveats” will warn about and point out the problems in sentences and ideas that I come across in English speaking texts, usually describing the Buddha Dharma erroneously, giving false impressions, causing confusion, or generally mistaking or misstating something about the Buddha Dharma.

The heading “Corrections” will attempt the brief restatement from my perspective to correct what was written.

The heading “Clarifications” will articulate the reasons for announcing the caveat and making the correction.

It should go without saying that I’m not writing from a position of a particular orthodoxy, but from a particular perspective.  The point is not that these corrections are intended to establish objective dogmatic views that everyone must adhere to, but that they reveal the “truth of perspective” itself, which is a central aspect of the core teachings of the Buddha Dharma, i.e., having an “Aligned View” is the first of the folds of the Eightfold Path that is basic to Buddhism.     

Here, the Buddha Dharma view we are centrally aligning with is the One Vehicle. This mind-only perspective “stands on zero” as the nondual teaching of emptiness (sunyata) and manifests Buddha Nature as the coming and going of thusness (Tathagata) for the great matter of bringing people to hear of, learn about, and enter into the Buddha’s seeing and knowing in order to alleviate the imbalance and off-centeredness (dukkha) that inevitably arises with self-consciousness and causes the general distress and dissatisfaction inherent in our lives that leads to our greed, hatred, delusions and the whole plethora of vexations, and ultimately to our killing, harming, stealing, lying, and generally bad behaviors towards each other.   

My initial anticipation is that many of first blogs of the series will circle around the areas of confusion between the One Vehicle and the Yogacara and Tathagatagarbha themes of Buddha Dharma as understood by scholastics in the West. 

This page will act as the introduction and table of contents for the blogs posted in this series, as well as a preview of blogs I hope to include.  The posted blogs can also be found by clicking on the “CCC” link in the list of Labels on the side of the pages.

If you have any suggestions or pet peeves of your own about how Buddha Dharma is being accommodated and acculturated in the West, please let me know in the comments.



Posts in this series:

Caveats, Corrections, and Clarifications: The meaning of ‘ Mind-only’

Anticipated Topics for Caveats, Corrections, and Clarifications:

~ Manas, the 7th Consciousness
~ Alayavijnana, the 8th Consciousness
~ Mind Only (citta-matra), Consciousness Only (vijnana-matra), and Notification Only (vijnapti-matra)
~ Lankavatara Sutra, The Sutra of Going Down to Lanka
~ Zen and Zen Samadhi
~ Samatha Vipassyana and Samadhi Prajna
~ Tendai Shikan and Zen Shikantaza
~ Five Types of Zen

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