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[ineb] Questions and Thoughts About Buddhism Today

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  • richard petersen
    Questions and Thoughts About Buddhism Today By Richard Petersen August 18, 1999 Here are some of the questions I have asked along with some of my thinking. I
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 18, 1999
      Questions and Thoughts About Buddhism Today
      By Richard Petersen
      August 18, 1999

      Here are some of the questions I have asked along with some of my
      thinking. I would love to have further discussion of these
      issues as well as others which people feel are important.
      Perhaps some of those on the INEB or Think Sangha lists will wish
      to bring further clarity to these topics.

      1. The nature of authority and the legitimacy of institutions.
      How does authority become legitimate?

      I do not have a good understanding of this one. Those with a
      better idea of Buddhist doctrine might have a better handle on
      this one. I have heard that there is something in Buddhist
      doctrine about the proper role of Kings. Organized Buddhism has
      certainly coexisted with rulers for centuries. The Dalai Lama is
      thought to have divine authority in the Tibetan Tradition.

      2. The world financial system. This is related to globalization -
      but is more about how money is created and how it moves around
      the world. It is affected by trade in goods - but as financial
      markets have dwarfed trade, it become an entity in itself. What
      are Buddhist views on debt?

      Both the Christian Bible and the Muslim Koran have much against
      the practice of usury. What do Buddhist doctrines have to say
      about debt and money.

      3. Governments, people and the movement of money in society. What
      is a Buddhist perspective on transferring money from one group to

      Islam has the concept to Zakat, or the giving of 1/40th of
      certain assets to the poor and other specified groups on a yearly
      basis. Where do Buddhist texts say about taxes and the voluntary
      or involuntary transfer of money between people or to a state

      4. Buddhism and consumer society. To what extent has Buddhism
      become a consumer product to be sold through objects and
      seminars. What are appropriate Buddhist institutions and how are
      they supported?

      One can observe Buddhist organization engaged in the business of
      selling objects and books. Increasingly in the west it is
      popular to charge for Buddhist seminars and conferences. Many
      Buddhist retreats support themselves through guest fees. One
      exception to this is the Vipassana Meditation groups who ask for
      no fee and claim to be strictly voluntary. In a consumer society
      in which everything is purchased with money it may seem natural
      to "sell" religious services and experiences. How compatible is
      this with traditional Buddhist teachings?

      5. The place of ritual in Buddhism. To what extent is ritual
      based on tradition and to what extent is it an evolving process?

      Buddhists have rituals that have been passed down from generation
      to generation. As Buddhism moves to different cultures, it may
      be asked, what is the importance of following rituals from
      another culture. Thich Nhat Hanh in Zen Keys seems to be saying
      that Zen in the West will have to adopt it's own forms and not
      become a copy of practices in other cultures. This also raises
      the question about how Buddhist ritual and tradition may change
      in our present day. As more people from different cultures
      mingle - even Buddhists from different traditions no mix with
      greater frequency than in the past. This is bound to have an
      effect of Buddhist culture and tradition. Unless one wants to
      preserve a culture as tourist attraction, a culture will
      invariably evolve and develop new forms. Buddhist traditions and
      culture are bound to be affected by communications technology as
      well as the dominant western media culture.

      6. Buddhism and the social issues of today. Buddhism meets
      feminism, racism, prejudice, homosexuality, abortion,
      nationalism, education and issues of class.

      This is an area carved out by engaged Buddhism. Buddhist history
      is full of the hierarchical and prejudiced views that are now
      coming under attack in western culture. It is becoming less
      acceptable to use historical Buddhist doctrine to defend the
      rightness of these views. This means that some parts of Buddhist
      doctrine which were held to be true will no longer be held to be
      true. If one accepts that doctrine can change, then the question
      comes up - what gets changed and who decides what changes? This
      is a non-trivial problem. One can look to the wisdom of leaders
      such as Thich Nhat Hanh or the Dalai Lama for clues. Many will
      attempt to define new doctrine, but who has the authority to say
      what is true or not.

      7. Buddhist Identity. What does it mean to call oneself a

      Anyone can call himself or herself a Buddhist. There is no
      central authority on what it means to be a Buddhist. Most of
      those in the west who call themselves Buddhists generally have
      studied something of Buddhist doctrine and feel that it offers
      enough of value that they want to be associated with Buddhism -
      enough that they would refer to themselves as a Buddhist. Is the
      label "Buddhist" mutually exclusive - can a Catholic call
      themselves a Buddhist? Perhaps - yet the Pope might consider
      this blasphemy and order the excommunication of the person from
      the official Roman church. I know of no procedure comparable to
      "excommunication" among Buddhist doctrine - but perhaps there
      is - does anyone know?

      Food for thought ...

      from Zen Keys by Thich Nhat Hanh

      Zen and the West

      A great number of scholars and monks have wanted to transplant
      Zen in Europe and America. Have these efforts proved successful?
      It remains to be seen.
      From the standpoint of knowledge, certain scholars, including
      Professor Daisetz Suzuuki, have contributed a great deal toward
      arousing the interest of Westerners in Zen Buddhism. Zen has
      influenced the thinking of theologians like Paul Tillich, and
      philosophers like Erich Fromm and Carl Jung. But Zen does not yet
      exist in the West as a living tradition. Many monks are teaching
      the practice of Zen there, but this practice still remains
      Oriental: foreign to Western culture. The fact is that Zen has
      not yet been able to find roots in this soil. Culture, economic,
      and psychological conditions are different in the West. One
      cannot become a practitioner of Zen by imitating the way of
      eating, sitting, or dressing of the Chinese and Japanese
      practitioners. Zen is life: life does not imitate. If Zen one day
      becomes a reality in the West, it will acquire a Western form,
      considerably different from Oriental Zen.


      Evading the Transformation of Reality
      - Engaged Buddhism at an Impasse -

      Businessweek has an interesting article titled "21 Ideas for the
      21st Century"
      online at http://businessweek.com/1999/99_35/b3644001.htm

      Richard Petersen
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