Kevin J. Rice, Kevin@justanyone.com, http://JustAnyone.com
Religion Paper 3, Operative question: "Can Buddhism, as either a philosophy of life or a religion, survive in the West?"
The question of Buddhism's survival in the west (or at least in the west exemplified in American popular culture) requires no differentiation between philosophy and religion. It centers instead on the areas of conflict between the essential principles of Buddhism and the assumptions of western culture.
The primary area of conflict I see is that of a lack of a personal god. The way Dharma has been described, it (he?) isn't someone you talk to, especially to ask for help or favors. Judeo-Christian culture is fundamentally different in its quest for a personal God that intervenes in their life and rescues them. This is similar to themes found in addictive behavior patterns: I am an addict (of sin) and I depend on God (some say Jesus) to rescue me from the consequences of my actions (redemption). Buddhism lacks that "Enabler" role, and requires people to be more fully responsible for consequences of their actions and motivations. People usually gravitate to thoughts that place them in an easier position, not a harder one, and taking more responsibility for one's actions in one's worldview seems to be moving in the opposite from normal direction.
Buddhism's basic inward focus of changing one's wants to match what is available don't quite match the western desire to alleviate suffering through satisfying a minimum standard of living. Changing a westerner's wants would require rethinking what a minimum standard of living is and why we think there is such a thing. In the process, of course, we might render meaningless 200 years of economic accomplishments, and that's treading a bit too close to telling people that all they've lived for is useless: people don't want to be told that, and won't listen. The ones who would listen, though, are the ones with few material possessions anyway, and in the U.S., only street people have any serious worry of starving to death. The vast majority of western peoples thus have what they see as a valid goal: a "decent" standard of living and a chance to improve it based on the profit motive.
The profit motive is based on want being veritably primordial in human nature. "So," we say, "Why joust windmills? Go with the flow!" Poor people are seen as lazy. Materialism is, and always has been, king of the west: Wealth equals worth. The Horatio Alger American dream is alive and well entrenched in its yuppie lifestyle of a two-story red brick colonial house in the suburbs with two kids, a Volvo station wagon, a Porche, and a boat.
The last main issue is that of Individuality with a capital I. Subsuming one's personality into an eternal corporate entity isn't appealing to the same "ME" generation that's still singing Frankie's "My Way" as they walk down Robert Frost's Road-Less-Traveled-By. Freedom is what Americans fight for, and the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the one doesn't get much air time. This is not to say that team spirit isn't valuable, it's just not a typical motivator. Besides, isn't it almost communistic?
To change all these factors would require a large shift in thinking, as is obvious. It is possible, however, to postulate what could bring about this change. It doesn't seem to me that this would occur unless there was a large sudden change in the standard of living which prompted people to think about it (people don't tend to fix what isn't obviously broken). That change could come about due to a sudden overabundance of things (like if 70 percent of the population died and those remaining had complete use of the resources left over) or a lack created by a sudden collapse of civil and economic order (you pick the scenario). Either way, fundamental reexamination of societal motivators would probably be delayed by several generations after the restoration of order.
Barring the collapse of civilization as we know it, it's probably a fair bet that Buddhism won't make many inroads into American culture. Thus, it seems America is doomed to be a sin-addicted, ME-focused, imperialistic materialistic profiteering horde for some time to come. I guess we'll just have redeem ourselves in the next life. Oh well. I like my Porche.
Buddhist Porche Sales 1990:
by Kevin J. Rice
Tuesday, October 9th, 1990
Introduction to World Religions
Tues & Thurs 9:30 am
Fall Semester, 1990
Can Buddhism, either as a philosophy of life or a religion, survive in the West?
Buddhism: I beg the question of whether is philosophy of life or religion, as it won't affect my argument. The term 'west' shall refer here to western society as embodied in American popular culture.
Essential issue: What essential principles of Buddhism would need to be accepted in order to enable Buddhism to survive in the west?
1.Transmigration of Souls - numbers issue.
2.Dharma: It isn't a personal god. Judeo-Christian cultural decendants look to a personal God that intervenes in their life and rescues them. The lack of a judgemental God that sits on a throne an decides who gets into heaven and who doesn't would mean accepting responsibility for their own actions, a more difficult worldview. People usually gravitate to thoughts that place them in an easier position, not harder, as taking responsibility for their own actions would do. Note: Role of addiction in built into culture in that addictions often require an enabler, one who rescues the addict and saves them from the consequences of their actions. Jesus is such a person; he saves those who do wrong from going to hell. Widely accepted that addictive behavior is difficult to remove from thoughts.
4.Inward focus: Western thought is rooted in changing the world to make it safe for us, not changing ourselves to make us safe for the world.
5.alleviation of earthly suffering as the primary religious goal - most see primary religious goal as entrance into heaven, earthly goals are separate from that. To alleviate earthly suffering, raise standards of living. To raise standards of living, big business is good, driven by want of profit. I keep 10 commandments, I'm an okay guy, it get into heaven. Formulistic.
7.Materialism: wants of man being a bad thing is almost communistic, rebellion against automatic. The U.S. is a better country to live in than the Soviet Union because of our standard of living. Horatio Alger story: Local boy makes good, distinguishes himself by making tons o' bucks. Acquisition of wealth a measure of quality of person, intelligence. Poor often seen as lazy, not as in a sad situation.
8.Individuality: subsuming of personality into eternal one - implication of group thought as being more valuable than individuality is not popular, widely regarded as patently wrong.
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