Watching the phenomenal growth of Buddhism in America has been like waiting for universal healthcare. Sometimes there are hopeful signs, sometimes disappointments. Everybody and his uncle seems to be reading about Buddhism, inspired by the words of the Dalai Lama or the story of the life of the Buddha. Everybody and his aunt thinks of Buddhism as peaceful in an era when there is far too little peace. Still it is held at arms length, or absorbed selectively: Compassion in, renunciation out. Mindfulness in, precepts out. Worse than that it becomes diverted into a marketable product or a means of self-enhancement, or trivialized as another element of the New Age party mix. We create sitting groups, Buddhist centers, temples, but almost always on a Western model that tends toward dysfunction. We elect teachers only to discover how much they leave out, or how faulty their motives are.
I’ve been personally involved in trying to sort this all out for some time, for nine years now while embedded in Buddhist communities, one year of that in Asia. A natural radical, I’ve come to a remarkably conservative conclusion: that Buddhism only takes root with a vibrant monastic sangha, and shrivels or morphs into something unrecognizable in the absence of this. This is not to say that Buddhism is necessarily monastic or can only be successfully practiced by nuns and monks, only that it needs that cord to hold the beads together. The Buddha envisioned it this way, and it has always been this way throughout Buddhist history. The West will be no exception.
This site is set up as a container for various writings centered around the project of a developing the bases of a vibrant Buddhist thought and practice to benefit American needs.
Monastic Life. I place this before the next, introductory, section in order to stress its critical importance, rarely appreciated on this side of the Pacific. The future of the monastic Sangha will be the key determinant of the future of Buddhism in America. It is similar in importance to getting the head properly positioned in the birthing process; once the head goes through, everything else generally proceeds generally without much problem.
Buddhism in America. These essays assess and advise the process of giving birth to Buddhism in America. The challenge is to retain the integrity of the Buddha’s project while adapting it and making it relevant to the American cultural context. An important part of this is to save Buddhism from the American propensity for tinkering.
Topics in the Dharma. These essays take up various aspect of Buddhist philosophy and practice. I see my role here as that of an interpreter, as that of making understandable and relevant to the Westerner teachings that evolved in quite foreign environments in the context of unfamiliar word views. Often this involves a new spin on traditional teachings.
Life in the Dusty World. This serves as a counterpart to the first section, that on Monastic Life. It is for the vast numbers of Buddha’s disciples who will bring their practice and the values they represent to bear on the mundane everyday world. My hope is that profundity of Buddhist teachings and practice have a strong and lasting transformative impact for the benefit of the broader American society.
Venerable Cintita. I have deliberately tried to assume a very personal perspective in throughout this site. Even as a monastic seeks solitude, his or her life becomes public and even as a monastic trains in no-self he or she serves as an example, hopefully an inspiration, and at least a point of contact.