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