Tag Archives: Western view of a Bodhisattva

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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