Growing the Dharma: Buddhism’s Religious Spadework

I have uploaded a highly reworked and nearly final draft of the eBook I had called Buddhist Religiosity. Please find it here:

file_pdfGrowing the Dharma: Buddhism’s Religious Spadework. Draft, July 2013. “The individual or collective Western response has often much like that of the new landowner who discovers an overgrown but still potentially productive corn field on his property and with limited understanding of both corn and non-corn, dauntlessly hacks away with a machete only to destroy half of the corn and to leave half of the undergrowth, then plants one row of Monsanto super-corn and row of squash to make it look right. It looks pretty good, so we call it Western Buddhism and expect it to save Buddhism from centuries of Asian misunderstanding and cultural accretions. We have all the hubris and discernment-level of rowdy teenagers.”


2 Responses to “Growing the Dharma: Buddhism’s Religious Spadework”

  1. Sophia Says:

    “/…/We have all the hubris and discernment-level of rowdy teenagers.”

    I think it would be strange if it would be otherwise. It’s not like we Westerners grow up in an environment in which Buddhism is something commonly present, well-known and welcome.

    Buddhism still is very much a subculture, and even a counterculture in the Western world.

    So a Westerner who finds themselves having some interest in Buddhism has to go against a lot more and against some different obstacles than an Easterner born in a traditionally Buddhist country.
    Dealing with those obstacles can be quite demanding.

    I’m sure that if we Western Buddhists would live in a world in which Buddhist temples, stupas and other public objects would be as common as Catholic churches, chapels and crosses are in Catholic countries, the situation would be a lot different. I’m sure that if we could commonly meet with Buddhist monastics, things would be a lot different.

    Instead, we Westerners usually live in an environment in which Buddhist public objects don’t exist, and Buddhist monastics are a rarity. We live in an environment that is generally hostile to the Dhamma, that even finds some aspects of the Dhamma pathological.

    Not rarely, a Westerner with some interest in Buddhism is in a one-against-all-situation.
    This can take a toll on their understanding and practice of the Dhamma and their appreciation thereof.

    Western individualism, so often criticized and denigrated, is actually key in making it possible for a Westerner to persevere in their efforts toward the Dhamma as they live in an environment hostile to it.


    • bhikkhucintita Says:


      I think you understand and express well the challenge Buddhism presents to Westerners, who must overcome their previous conditioning to recognize what Buddhism is about. I have lived among many Burmese “cradle Buddhists” for long to appreciate the difference. They themselves have their own conditioning that makes it difficult for them to tap into many of the worthwhile Western values, for instance, such as critical thinking and constructive debate, but find Buddhist values we struggle with as natural as air and water.

      Your last statement about individualism, though, I think needs some qualification. I think I see what you are getting at. But much of what we call individualism is simply having a strong ego, and is not very individualized at all. Much of it is mistaking prior social conditioning for personal free will. In fact, marketers understand how to use appeals to individuality to get people to buy pretty uniformly the same products. The quality I suspect you are getting at is a kind of bold resolve, that perhaps characterizes the West, to try something different, the kind of thing that motivates explorers, like Sir Edmund Hilary. This is actually a kind of faith or trust (not blind faith, because it can be very discerning) to jump into the unknown. I explore this in the chapter on Refuge.


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