Saturday, March 31, 2012

Western Buddhism part 2

The primary difference between Western and Eastern Buddhism is the relationship between teacher and student. In the East, students would live at a teaching center with a revered master; in the West, most students are lay people. Western students might visit a teaching center but then return to their normal lives. They might also practice meditation on their own at home. This means that new generations of American Buddhists are going to be in vastly different circumstances than previous generations. Traditional values might be upended - take for example the Eastern emphasis on celibacy. Its way easier to be celibate in a monastery, surrounded by people of the same sex. In fact, Buddhist monks in the East might have emphasized celibacy in part because they were so removed from society. But most American Buddhists don’t live in monasteries and most American Buddhists are not going to become celibate. But American Buddhists might emphasize appropriate sexual conduct. Similarly, an Eastern Buddhist monk might not sleep in a high bed, watch movies, handle money, or eat after 5pm. But this way of living is not going to fly with most American Buddhists. American Buddhists might therefore place less emphasis on discipline and more on spontaneity and creativity. Which is fine - different cultures have their different ways of doing things. As Western culture is different than Eastern culture, so too will Western Buddhism be different from Eastern Buddhism.

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