It’s Always Best To Start At The Beginning

By: Venerable Dr. Brian Shen-Jin Kenna

“It’s always best to start at the beginning – and all you do is follow the Yellow Brick Road.”1

As Buddhist monks when we begin to start to engage the Scriptures it can seem a daunting task.The common thoughts that arise in one’s mind could be: Where to begin? What should be the first book and where should we begin reading? Should we start at the “beginning?” Where exactly is this ‘beginning’?

This is not only a practical problem, it is also a conceptual and interpretive problem. Wherever we choose to begin sets in motion a way of seeing, one which inevitably will highlight some aspects of what we explore and push some others into the shadows.

So what is a monk or teacher to do? How do we learn to understand this information before we can ever consider transmitting it to our students?

In Christianity the Bible is often referred to as the Word of God. As Buddhists we too can take this approach to scripture seeing them as the word of the Buddha or Buddavacana. Certainly a good first place to begin studying would be with the life of the Buddha. We can find scriptures detailing how he lived, what he thought, what he taught to his followers. By taking a scholarly approach we can begin to see the Buddha’s life and times not only from Buddhist sources but also other historical and religious sources that characterized the time in which he lived.

Within the scriptures themselves there are many biographies of the Buddha that one could start with. In the Ariyapariyesana sutta,“The Noble Search”, we hear from the Buddha himself as he recalls the start of his own journey down this path we are all traveling.

“I, too, monks, before my Awakening, when I was an unawakened bodhisattva [a buddha-to- be], being subject myself to birth, sought what was likewise subject to birth. Being subject myself to aging… illness… death… sorrow… defilement, I sought [happiness in] what was likewise subject to illness… death… sorrow… defilement. The thought occurred to me, ‘Why do I, being subject myself to birth, seek what is likewise subject to birth?’ Being subject myself to aging… illness…death… sorrow… defilement, why do I seek what is likewise subject to illness… death… sorrow…defilement? What if I, being subject myself to birth, seeing the drawbacks of birth, were to seek the unborn, unexcelled rest from the yoke: Unbinding [Nirvana]? What if I, being subject myself to aging… illness… death… sorrow… defilement, seeing the drawbacks of aging… illness…death… sorrow… defilement, were to seek the aging-less, illness-less, deathless, sorrow-less,unexcelled rest from the yoke: Unbinding?”

“So, at a later time, while still young, a black-haired young man endowed with the blessings of youth in the first stage of life — and while my parents, unwilling, were crying with tears streaming down their faces — I shaved off my hair & beard, put on the ochre robe and went forth from the home life into homelessness.”

“Having thus gone forth in search of what might be skillful, seeking the unexcelled state of sublime peace, I went to Alara Kalama and, on arrival, said to him: ‘Friend Kalama, I want to practice in this doctrine discipline.’” Continue reading

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Violence & Non-Violence: Lessons on Perfecting Tolerance

By: Rev. Shi Shen-Xi Astor

From the very beginning of our Buddhist studies we learn about the Three Pure Precepts – Do no harm, Do only good, Do good for others; and the Ten Precepts, the first being to abstain from taking life, or as we creatively re-describe it ‘I undertake the training of loving-kindness in all possible circumstances, I will abstain from hurting sentient beings’. We recognize that by acting with encompassing and corrective effort that we gradually train our conditioned mind to act spontaneously for the good. The way we tackle life’s experiences and situations will seem spontaneous to others but we quickly learn that they come from practice and commitment to the path we have chosen to practice. Our Buddhist Precepts can be considered as positive and constructive resolutions that are sincerely and voluntarily undertaken. They awaken in us how the truly wise behave, beyond any sense of dominating self interest; the realization that mutability is the foundation upon which we are made.

Malevolent behavior often springs from an ego-mind deluded about our nature as human beings, and it can take the characteristics of hatred, aggression, and craving for unnatural control over others, or against others we perceive as being different, in negative aspects from what we consider “normal.” It is not power and control that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing control corrupts those who wield it unjustly and without consent, or fear of the unknown that they see as threatening to their core beliefs. These behaviors feed upon themselves and become strongly rooted in the way we see the world around us and our dominating dispositions, not only in individuals but in whole cultures or sub-cultures. Physical aggression, as expressed in violent like action, is no more than their most spectacular and bloody expression. In Buddhism the cultivation of situational ethics reflected in expressions of compassion by our attempting to follow the moral precepts is an aspiration toward breaking this karmic cycle. It is a primary step towards resolving the egocentricity of dominating willfulness, and cultivating sincere awareness of others. These moral and ethical precepts invite us to remove those filters through which we view the world in negative terms and to aspire to promoting harmony and reconciliation where it is needed. Whether, and to what extent, we keep the Precepts is the responsibility of each individual. But we must remain fully aware of the intent of our actions while we engage the hard issues of our day.

The contingent causal force of violent behavior will be affected by the circumstances in which it occurs. There is surely a difference between conflicts of conquest, religious intolerance and self-interests, than actions of defense. History has recorded some conflicts for national independence from foreign exploration in Buddhist countries that became established in some Buddhist schools tradition as examples of just actions to counter acts of tyranny since freedom was essential to the spiritual as well as the material progress of the indigenous community. We may deplore the historic destruction of the great Indian Buddhist heritage in the middle-ages undefended against the Mongol and Muslim invaders, for example. However, it is important to understand that according to Buddhism there is nothing that can be called a ‘just violence against a minority group’ which is only a false term coined and put into circulation to justify and excuse hatred, cruelty, ignorance, violence, suffering, and the philosophy of relativism.

Why does the violence inherent in radicalism so often undercut the humanistic nature of ones cause? To implement acts of destruction is easy, to work for a constructive and just resolution is difficult. Violence has no goodness, only outcomes. Someone is always on the winning or losing side. It is doubtful that peace by destruction could be the only way in which contemporary cultures would experience a stable world order resulting in a lasting peace as well as a universal one. In this modern time the ideal is at least stated in terms of peaceful methods for achieving tolerance and inclusiveness for everyone, not by force, but by consent, not by imposition imposed buy the weak minded. But reality reflects a different lesson. We speak in terms of tolerance, but act in terms of aggression. The intent, I think, is clear. Augustine put it this way, “…with the desire for peace that wars are waged….Every man seeks peace by waging war, but no man seeks war by making peace. For even they who intentionally interrupt the peace in which they are living have no hatred of peace, but only wish it changed into a peace that suits them better….Even those who they make war against they wish to make their own, and impose on them the laws of their own peace”. Continue reading

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Having Faith To Doubt

By: Rev. David Shi Shen-Xi 曦 肯

Our Buddhist practice is one of seeking. Seeking the spirit and in wonder, which is in our human nature. It requires committed action, with determined intent to find a place of wonder, promoting a mind at peace and harmony with all that surrounds us in our Universe. We are called to deeply examine our lives from a position that will lead us to ask deeply profound questions about how this body-mind of ours functions in relationship to our personal needs, but also how we live together with others. The Buddhist precepts that are condensed from the Four Noble Truths, as well as the Bodhisattva ideal, require and challenges us to seriously consider how we can live a life that manifests our universal expressions; which is the manifestation of harmony and happiness. We may be the only sentient beings that has this capacity for seeking a wider understanding of how we can awaken to the Buddha nature that makes us enlightened beings. Because, as I see it, when we truly realize this capacity for developing the body-mind state of harmony, we have stepped onto the path to awakening. But there is a challenge.

Dogen, in Shinjingakudo, the “Realization of the Way through the Body and Mind,” said, “The sun, moon, and stars as seen by humans and by divas are not the same, and the views of various beings differ widely.” But these views are nothing but mind. If this is true, then all phenomena that fill our sense consciousness can be considered differently by different beings by how the mind processes the concepts inherent in what the senses present to it. Does this mean that everyone’s view is correct? Does it mean that everyone’s view is somehow wrong? Does it mean that there is no right or wrong, that it is all relative? Given this, how can we possibly live together in harmony if each of us adopts a different view of this world from how we perceive objects thru our filters of dispositions and personal preferences?

We only need to look at the current news and the commentary giving varied views on cause and consequences to know that there is a lot of talk about moral/ethical values and the need to cultivate civilized behaviors based on the roles we play in our communities, government and politics, and in our educational institutions. These ideas and notions are then going to find there way into the creation of policies, into the schoolroom, and it is influencing what is being taught, and how we understand things; evolution, and the superiority of democratic values, that seem to have been lost in our contemporary culture. We find those in authority expounding on the right action necessary to address current day social challenges, and often with a convincing voice. I don’t doubt their convictions or sincerity. However, we need only to wait for the briefest moment to hear a rebuttal, and another view expounding what is right and giving us the “real” correct value according to that worldview. We are being ask to have faith and trust that a given action is best for a specific situation. We only need to believe. These various claims to authority lead to arguments, hatred, and sometimes violence. All in the name of what is “right”.

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The Golden Rule In Buddhism

By: Rev. David Shi Shen-Xi

The Buddhist precepts have over the years taken on a force of their own, it seems, as Western teachers work to creatively re-describe them in terms that their Western students can relate to. What makes the precepts a bit confusing perhaps is that the various Buddhist schools and traditions have different terminology for them that has been driven by past cultural expectations as Buddhism moved East out of India. A valid question may be, “Why are the precepts identified differently depending on what Buddhist books I read?” This is a fair question, and one that confused me many years ago too. The Buddhist precepts are moral and ethical guidelines and as such have evolved through the ages based on the realities of their day. Originally, they were developed by Siddhartha in order to foster harmony within those that lived together in the Sangha of his followers. In the beginning no precepts were needed, but as time went on the Buddha found it necessary to confront the inequities of human behavior and addressed disharmony by setting some “rules” for personal conduct. For this reason it is not surprising that the Ten Grave Precepts sound a lot like the Ten Commandments. In fact, you can find similarities in the precepts to the Golden Rule which is really the basis of the Buddhist Three Pure Precepts, when you think about it. Consider it like a ruler for drawing a straight line where this line is a path that helps prevent us from getting lost along the way of our practice. Precepts are not goals, but are realities that emerge from the Four Noble Truths. The precepts are like a mirror when held up to a mature practice reflects back these truths. They are something we undertake, not something we are given.

The Ten Grave Precepts are, in a way, another example of a Buddhist paradox. They can be viewed both as a negative and a positive. In fact, in older descriptions of the precepts they reflect what we should NOT DO. But as Western teachers engage them from a contemporary and pragmatic perspective, they are articulated in positive and useful language. In fact, we might consider them as seeds, that have been planted in the enriched soil of the Western culture that are producing a bumper crop of new plants that are better recognizable as something we can consume for nourishing the human spirit. Continue reading

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Seeing Is Believing or Believing is Seeing

By: Venerable Shen-Jin Kenna

The study of Buddhist scripture or any scripture for that manor is an undertaking that can lead to greater knowledge of one’s belief system but also can stir deep emotions from within. As Buddhist teachers we need to remember that when we teach the scripture to our students we must keep a fundamental distinction first and foremost in our minds. This distinction is that as Buddhist scholars and teachers we must make clear the difference between the devotional expression of particular religious beliefs as being an ideal standard or model and the nonsectarian study of religion that presumes the religious legitimacy of diverse normative claims. We need to make this distinction in order to recognize the validity of normative theological assertions without equating them with universal truths about the religion itself.

We can trace this distinction by saying that there are two kinds of realism in play when we make factual statements about the place of scriptures in the lives of Buddhist men and women. Religious influences are embedded in all aspects of human experience, and that all knowledge claims (including religious ones) are socially constructed and represent particular perspectives.

We will call this first kind of realism “observable.”

Knowing the facts of observable reality is essential to understanding Buddhism as it has existed in history, but it can have the effect, if we are not careful, of making Buddhist scriptures remote from us in time and space. Buddhist scriptures can become quite confusing when we encounter something that could perhaps be meaningful for people in days gone by or in places far away from wherever we find ourselves today. As we will see in a moment, focusing exclusively on the observable can also distort or even obstruct our understanding.

By looking at the second type of realism we can lessen these unwanted effects.

This realism encourages us to try to make factual statements about Buddhist scriptures not in terms of what is observable about where they have been “situated”, or in terms of what is observable about where Buddhist scriptures have been embedded in history and culture, but rather in terms of who is addressed by a Buddhist scripture.

When we try to make factual statements of this kind, we want to know something significantly different from what can be observed. We want to know what a scripture says to a person, and it will be best if we can hear what it is saying in present time, with a message for a particular person, group of people or oneself. As we try to make factual statements about this second kind of realism, we are trying to discern how scriptures are qualities of personal living, even when they are embedded in history and situated in societies and cultures. Continue reading

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Perfecting A Practice of Readiness

By: David Shi Shen-Xi

As we gain perfected readiness in understanding the core tenets of what we learn when studying many of the Buddhist principles, and begin to find them reflected in the lessons from our everyday experiences, our unconditioned conscious state will open up to a new beginning that drives the acquisition which helps us acquire an awareness of the wisdom they represent that shows us how the Universe reflects it’s reality all around us and how we relate to these individual expressions, and perhaps even allowing us to see the shadows also reflecting their unity with all other mutual relationships. During any explanation of Buddhist thought representing the beliefs of any specific Buddhist tradition, you will always hear of the important fundamental teachings of the Four Noble Truths as we have done from a pragmatic perspective so far. But in addition to these, there are other core principles that are teachings accepted by all traditions too. These are the principles of interdependent co-origination (or dependent origination), impermanence, no-self, and contingent-causality. There are others, but these are the core principles from which all others stem from. When I speak about the Zen teachings of the Chinese and Japanese masters as they speak about the nature of self and other, we can also find them discussing some or all of these core principles as well. Our legacy teachers speak about the enriching empowerment of nature, as well as the psycho-emotional self-help tools that can promote human flourishing. The study of history can bring the ancient Buddhist culture into contemporary perspective that all of us today can relate to, somewhat.

We need to be careful in how we study Buddhism, as in doing so we are really studying a REFLECTION of what the Buddha taught, not his actual thinking. While words are thoughts, we have to ask ourselves who’s thoughts. Just because a specific scripture is attributed to the Buddha, for example, they have become unverifiable from a historical perspective. That would be impossible as he is not here to explain away any misunderstanding we have of what we THINK truly represents his mind 2600 hundred years ago. In fact, the Buddha lived before Buddhism was ever developed into a philosophy and spiritual practice as seen through the eyes of an ancient Asian worldview, and now those views are challenged in order to reflect Western 21st century realities. Just like Jesus lived before Christianity was created into a unique theology. When we study Buddhism we must be keenly aware of what we are reading relative to how the subject or topic was most likely spoken of in the Buddha’s day. When we read a text in the Pali canon or other comparable source, if something said there by the Buddha could just as well have been said by a Jain or Brahman priest, then you put that aside as simply part of the broadly accepted worldview of the period. It’s not something unique to the Buddha’s dharma, you see. Although, the Buddha was like any of us and was no doubt influenced by the cultural expectations and moral structures of his time, they acted as the basis from which he sought ways to change things to reflect his awakened view point. We need to learn to apply “Buddhist math” in order to arrive at our own understanding of what it is we too believe that helps us make sense of this world we call home. By pursuing this process of math, specifically subtraction, we can start to separate out the generic cosmology and metaphysics of his time and space and use our days knowledge and technical tools including science to aid in a greater understanding of what it is he was teaching. And what remains standing can then be considered as what made the Buddha’s teaching so distinctive. This is also true when you study the precepts, as two human views are being confronted – the teachers and the students. Continue reading

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Finding Worldly Bodhisattvas

By: Shi Shen-Xi

For a while now we have spoken about the growing tendency of thinking Buddhism is in a phase of a reformation of sorts. The challenge for an organization like OEB is to find our way in this maze of change that seems to be challenging the very nature of what Buddhist is as it moved into the West. Not only that, but how are terms like religion or secular to be applied to the various Buddhist practices as we become an international teaching order. My own experience when I speak to other monks around the world, is that how we practice here in America is not often mirrored in other Western cultures.

Considering all of this, there is another element to this broad discussion that touches on how we come to consider what a Bodhisattva is. Or more specifically, how a practice is to transform to one that can be recognized as Bodhisattva-like. So, I want to speak a little about the notion of finding worldly Bodhisattvas.

I have read and studied Buddhism now for three decades, and have had a formalized and structured practice for over 10 years now. My practice is that of a Zen priest engaged in applying what I have been studying for the benefit of others, which in turn brings merit back to my own practice, although that is not my intent. During all this time I have slowly come to realize that Buddhism as it is being practiced in America today is going through an interesting and significant transformation. This is what you would expect from a philosophical and spiritual based tradition(s) migrating from an Asian culture. And much is being written today about the transforming component culture and language plays on such a shift in perspective: East to West. My teacher would speak often of this historical phenomena. Although the energy this discussion is taking has grown in energy  over the years since I last spoke to him about it. This reporting and dialogue is being generated by academics, Buddhist masters, and both the monastic and lay communities. The current journal publications are full of topics that can only be considered reformative. In fact, some of the most influential Western Buddhist teachers today are non-monastic’s, like Stephen Batchelor. It is also true that these teachers have had monastic training and years of personal experience in strict Buddhist training. And many monks in the West are now opting out to live away from a temple environment in order to pursue a dynamic social practice and ministry. This is one of the changes that is transforming Buddhist teaching and study and is generating a lot of discussion on secular vs. religious significance of how Buddhism should be viewed and practiced in the West. Continue reading

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A Pragmatic View Of Religion

David Xi-Ken Shi 曦 肯

When we consider a pragmatic view of the problems of society, we generally do so from an intellectual and philosophical mindset, especially in the beginning. This does not have to be different when we come to consider religious experience and thought. From a pragmatic perspective we can use the thoughts on the subject from the pragmatists John Stuart Mill, William James, and Richard Rorty as a guide as we also bring our Buddhist thought and practice into the equation.

Richard Rorty as a 20th century pragmatist considered describing religious thought in terms of:

1 Placing aside talk about Truth and Reason, our only responsibility, philosophically and morally, is to our fellow human beings, not some “sublime dimension of being” or “ the starry heavens.”

2 This responsibility is “to make our beliefs cohere with one another, and to our fellow humans to make them cohere with one another.”

3 We examine our beliefs by how they are “habits of actions,” not on whether they represent the world.

4 What emerges is a utilitarian ethics of belief, which treats a belief as a habit of action.

5 Place into the context of the philosophy of religion, a utilitarian philosophy of religion must “also treat being religious as a habit of action.” 1

Any useful and positive thoughts on what it means to be a “religious individual” does not need to be different from secular or pragmatic understanding of other aspects of human moral and ethical conduct that is essential in cultivating a civilized society. Any religious practice (or spiritual), Buddhist or other, owes much of its moral obligation and responsibility to all sentient beings, not by strict observance of doctrine, scriptures, or legacy beliefs, but to intentional actions honed by serious practice of core humanist principles as guideposts. For Buddhists, these guides are first to be found in the Four Noble Truths and practiced using the guides of the Eightfold Path of behavior that promotes human flourishing, and the higher reasoning perspective of the Six Refinements. Whether you consider this a religious endeavor or not is really not all that important. What counts are the lessons found in the Three Pure Precepts – Do no harm, do only good, do good for others. Which is Buddhism’s equivalent to the “Golden Rule”.

I rarely speak of religion in anything other then general terms, and only as a word useful for establishing relationships or dialogue between various interfaith groups and Buddhism. However, in a more pragmatic spirit, religion as a subject might have some useful elements when we leave out the theistic overtones that can quickly move the discussion into the metaphysical realm of understanding beyond validating real world human experience. What is useful for me is to put aside any attempt to connect religious practices with various ancient definitions of transcendent realities which may have usefulness in terms of symbolism or metaphorical imaginings for modern man, but is better placed in the contemporary human spiritual dimension that honors the human drive to find awe in the possibilities beyond common knowing.   In other words, we move “religious action” toward a practice of mindfulness that with ritual intent becomes a tool for awakening to a broader view of universal realities with the help of 21st century science. In doing this we move the word religion to becoming a verb. Continue reading

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Larger Awareness: Self-Communication

By: Rev. David Astor 曦 肯

Have you ever had a conscious driving desire to just go into a room by yourself and just be alone with your thoughts? Or just sit and not think of anything, just get away from the hassle of the day? When we have a Buddhist practice, this might include just wanting to sit on our cushion for a while, and letting go of ourselves, at least that part of us that seems disturbed. It is difficult to say just where this wish actually comes from, but if we follow it, then sometimes a larger awareness begins to take shape, we begin to move toward that refuge space in our consciousness we have been developing during our meditation sessions, and our mind’s-eye begins to open to a different feeling, a different awareness of something bigger than just this person we call me.

I guess the question this experience engenders is, “How does such a miraculous thing happen?” Master Dogen referred to this as the aspiration for awakening that arises in the mystical communion between our Buddha natures and sentient beings. He also said that this experience is not given by buddhas or bodhisattvas, it is not created by ourselves, and it doesn’t simply arise spontaneously. I would like to think that the reality of our universal nature is always ready to show itself to us. This is not something “out there”, apart from us, but arises from an awakened unconditioned consciousness. This natural nature of ours is always there for us to experience, even if we are not yet ready. When we begin to practice seriously, it begins to whisper to us in ever increasing volume. It is a kind of self-communication, yet we have lost touch with it as our everyday experiences have come to overwhelm the very nature of who we really are. When we, as perfected beings, put forth some intention, aspiration, or receptivity, we meet our universal natures (our Buddha natures) in some degree. Our Buddha nature is ready to always respond to this “sentient being nature”, and sometimes we can appreciate this meeting which seems to come “out of the blue” when we are also ready. This generally happens when we are in a space alone. Even if that space is full of others.

In the move Star Wars, the young Skywalker is told that Jedi knights are special persons because they have a very high midi-chiorian count. He learns that midi-chiorians are symbiotic life forms that live inside your cells in mutual relationship and constantly speak to you when you quite the mind. His teacher indicated that without midi-chiorians one would not have any knowledge of the “living Force.” I find this may be another way for explaining our Buddha natures in a way. When we quite the mind and learn to sit in that special mental state, our natural natures also “speak” to us, and point to realities beyond our ordinary sense perceptions. The force of the awakened mind is immense, because of the energy it takes to realize it and then use it for doing good. But unlike in Star Wars, the Universe has no dark side, instead that potential dark side resides in our conditioned mind through the negative filters we have self-developed over a life time. These negative filters can cloud everything.

How do we get ready to begin to experience the whisper of our universal natures when it speak to us? The key words are “intentional action.” We practice to develop an intentional mind awareness. Precept training, for example, is about engaging the intent of our behavior for doing good and avoiding harm. There are many practices we can engage to help perfect our readiness. We may use images to trigger our awareness and the relationship we have to Buddhist thought. The altar we set up has such visual lessons we keep in front of us when we practice. Ritual practice like incense offering and lighting candels is a good way to strengthen our inner awareness. Reciting specific words in the form of sutras or the language of the vows we took is another way for intentional development of experiencing the heart of our universal natures. A little bit of intention arises to stop and settle right here and now, giving up the endless turmoil of self-centered thought for the benefit of all. When we put forth the intention, the response is right there expressed in a deeper relaxation and quiet mind. They all act as triggers when our mind is focused and quite from outside thought as we JUST DO the actions of ritual practice. From this stage of readiness, we sit and listen. When I say mindful meditation is just about sitting in silence and listening, we are listening for these whispers that point to a greater reality that have always been there, but perhaps not seen yet. They may not teach us how to use a light saber, but they will open up a world that has no limit to how we see the vast Universe beyond just the skin and bones that makes up us. Continue reading

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The Advent Of A Buddhist Renaissance ?

By: David Xi-Ken Shi  曦 肯

All forms of Buddhism should welcome historical study as relevant and useful I think that acts to broaden one‘s understanding on how to engage ancient conical text in light of how the 21 century has come to recognize the universe in scientific realities. Buddhist teachings have always told us that impermanence is a great, unalterable fact of our experience and that it is crucial for us to become comfortable with that truth. History is simply the study of how things change and develop, which is to say that history studies changing cultural institutions and ideas in order to know where we have been as a human race and hoping to find a validating and clear path to were we are to go. Recent Western historical scholarship of the core Buddhist principles has specifically focused on the major concepts including the notion of impermanence, including the impermanent characteristic of Buddhist practices, philosophical thought, and the human spiritual narrative. This directed study may be a result of some curiosity of a different way of seeing the world around us from how our Western philosophical and theological thought sees it has having key components that are considered a permanent part of the created universe. Buddhism is often studied with some sense of natural human curiosity because it represents something different. Yet, some practitioners claim that historical knowledge is irrelevant to them because they only want to meditate. And that’s fine on a narrow ledge of awareness. But without knowledge of Buddhism’s rich and diverse history, it is difficult for any of us to commit to any particular tradition’s approach to the practice of the Dharma, that also must integrate into our individual worldview. In other words, we must relate.

I would like to give you a brief historical perspective that engendered the development of the practice of Buddhism in our contemporary world from one that I have been contemplating for some time. We often refer to Buddhism’s past as Eastern, and its modern development as Western. Although we have little choice but to consider Buddhism from a Western perspective, I have come to consider this view as incomplete. Instead of thinking in terms of “East” and “West,” we should at least think in terms of three cultures: those of India, China, and Europe. Buddhism is not an institution, or an entity into itself. It is first and foremost a philosophy with psychology overtones, one that when applied to our daily lives, can promote harmony and happiness. You many hear me say that the Buddha was a philosopher, not a theologian. However, as Buddhism began to flourish in some cultures, and merged with pre-Buddhist indigenous beliefs, it developed into a religious practice as well. The Tibetan tradition is a good example of this. We also see in some Asian countries that Buddhism has been taken as the state religion. And even in the West, Buddhism is classified as a religion more often than not. I think that most of us would say that Buddhism is a religion, simply because it is identified as a world religion. To ignore this would be silly, or worst delusional. But this debate as to how to classify Buddhism is not what I wish to focuses on this time. Although this debate is beginning to heat up, if the number of articles and books on the subject is any indication. But I want to bring to you, for your serious consideration, how our contemporary Buddhist practice came to be. At lease, from my own study and worldview. This will be a brief introduction, as the topic has broad academic dimensions, as you can imagine. Continue reading

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