August 3, 2021

Outsider Buddhism

Like so many innovations and imports, Buddhism is a mixture of old and brand new, East and West, conservative and revolutionary. It reflects the complexity that is present in all social modify.

“Buddhism hasn’t has an original idea in 1000 years. ” Edward cullen Conze. Thirty Years of Buddhist Research
Buddhism arrived in the West early in the nineteenth century, after the hundreds of years of Western economic and political expansion. Asian religions like Buddhism were certainly known to travelers and missionaries long before then, but it was not until the early nineteenth century that will Buddhism fully captured the traditional western imagination.

The nineteenth century has been one of social and philosophical upheaval, both for the west as well as for Oriental cultures newly exposed to western ideas, education, and values. So inevitably, the versions of Buddhism that have come to the West, from that time forward, have been impacted by Western tips, directly and indirectly, at the hands of each Western interpreters and Asian exponents.

Sometimes Buddhism is used to refute western ideas and support conventional world-views and values; sometimes it is adapted to meet the west on the west’s terms, to make it palatable and obtainable; sometimes it takes on the form of an apologia, to appease disparagement from the Western and to meet Western approval. A few in the West, like Schopenhauer in the 1830s, and of course many since then, hope to find justification for their own ideas simply by affirming common ground with Buddhism. Inevitably, Buddhism in the west continues to be strained through Western ideas and expectations of it, just as Buddhism in Asia is influenced by its western adaptations, as well as by conservative responses away from them.

Cultures are not static. They adapt in the same way that residing organisms do. If true stasis ever existed, it would lead to wachstumsstillstand and extinction. This is as real for a culture, or an idea, as it is for a species. Cultural experience centers on the evolving tensions between opposites, inertia and momentum, tradition and alter, innovation and convention.

The interplay and tensions between nomads plus farmers, between urban and countryside populations, between orthodoxy and heresy, between members of one religion plus another, between invading and indigenous people, is often the lifeblood of change and renewal, however violently it may play out, and nevertheless self-defeating the long-term consequences may be. Tensions of all kinds are exactly how cultural renewal, change, and development, and the impulse for human survival, have found expression down the ages.

No wonder then, that as a species we also hunger for unchanging truth, for ideas that are pure and reliable, uninfluenced by the flux associated with human tides. Our quest for it could be as old as human thought itself. How many angels can fit on the head of a pin? Exactly why is I here? How do neutrinos and quarks emerge within the milliseconds following the big bang?

The quest for certainty has shown itself within Buddhism as it has in all the excellent traditions. Instructions handed down from founding sources have been taken to be absolutes, whether we call it Dharma, or The Word of God. How great, an impartial observer might state, that the Truth has so many complicated and contradictory ways of expressing by itself!
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Exponents of Buddhism often satisfaction themselves on the practicality and versatility of their tradition, the fact that they have you do not have for a ‘God’ or of any kind of transcendent authority. Teachings about the relativity and subjectivity of the ‘self’ — anatta, and of the nature of actuality — unya, have provided Buddhism with an effective eject button anytime there has been a tendency to be caught in absolutes. However , this has not really prevented what has come down to us as instructions, anecdotes, or analogies to be taken as literal truth. Such is our hunger for assurance. Such is the tension between understanding and being, between understanding and embodiment — another tension associated with opposites that plays out inside us.

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