Buddhism is all about love—sweet dispassionate love…

img_1111It has long been predicted that Buddhism’s future is in the West, and for better or worse, that may very well be true. So the question then becomes: what kind of Buddhism would that be? For purposes of dialog and dialectic, I see the two chief protagonists to be the Thai Forest Tradition and Zen, both of which have numerous and faithful adherents in the West, and both of which can claim some purity of faith and doctrine…

Tibetan Buddhism I imagine has as many or more adherents as either of the above, but is already mixed-and-mashed to the max, so the purity of doctrine is just not there, for better or worse, not to mention modern sex scandals, a dubious devotion to physical reincarnation, and a generation-jumping karma of retribution that just won’t quit. This was the final chapter to a previous crossroads, in Asia, and what worked there, and then, will not likely work here, and now…

So for starters there’s the Forest Tradition of Theravada lineage, which has the advantage of doctrinal purity, and simplicity of practice, an intrinsic association with nature, and a convenient disassociation from the mainstream of Thai Buddhism, which is corrupt to an extent that might make the Vatican’s cardinals blush even redder than their robes…

But the best and brightest senior Forest monks, of both Western and Asian birth, still feel the necessity of adding just one more ‘feedback loop’ to make sense of karmic rebirth, rather than just admit it was all a big mistake (‘my greatest blunder’ or something like that). Admittedly their level of karmic complicity is less than the Tibetan obsession with ‘cyclic existence’, but still, c’mon guys, read a science book once in a while, or molecular biology, along with the Pali Canon…

And Zen is good, even if D. T. Suzuki’s Rinzai school is likely a bit too koan-fusing for the average bloke from Backwater, and you gotta’ be Leary (?!) of anything coming from Alan Watts, since his discipline never quite matched his zeal, personally or professionally, though the insights were and are incredible…

But they were the first to ‘turn on’ the West to Zen, and Buddhism, even if the legacy of ‘beat Zen vs. square Zen’ has yet to be resolved, and the legacy of samurai and shogun involvement is a bit of a violent episode for a belief system that tries hard to be peaceful…

Current best efforts at reconciling Buddhism with the West seem to concentrate on mixing Buddhism with Christianity, season to taste, and Thich Nhat Hanh’s brand of pre-Japanese pre-Rinzai Chinese-derived Lin-chi (yum!) Zen, Vietnamese-style, is a good first step forward…

So the Buddhist dialectic in the West is backward, really, first high lofty enigmatic Zen, then mix-and-match mystical-magical Tibetan, then basic simple Theravada, and now maybe a mixture of Buddhism, Christianity and, possibly—Science? But this is Buddhism’s great strength, I’d say, dialog and dialectic, since Christianity has no dialectic, not really…

So just what would this theoretical hybrid look like? Traditional Theravada is based on self-control, at the risk of violating nature, monks consigned to their cottages, for life, of leisure and opportunity, the few forays mostly limited to early morning alms-round mid-town market meanderings for meals and minutiae, though abbots and senior monks fare better, befitting their stature…

Mahayana is maybe more natural, day’s work for a monk’s day’s stay, but was never as well-defined. Thus the previous dialectic was unfinished, with only Theravada well-defined, and Mahayana running riot. Tantra was only a partially satisfactory synthesis, so that dialectic should continue…

So what does Buddhism lose in any synthesis with Christianity and the West, or is syncretism only a temporary expediency, until Westerners can see truly see that their open-mouthed goo-goo eyed optimism has a flip-side, too, and the bill is long overdue?

Of course Buddhism has its many faults, too, e.g. passivity and resignation, and any true synthesis of thesis and antithesis should reconcile the best of both, and leave the rubbish for pick-up. So are SE Asian countries poor because of Theravada, or vice-versa? And are Japan, Korea and Taiwan rich countries because of Mahayana, or vice-versa? I don’t know, but it shouldn’t matter for the West…

What matters is that Theravada is well-defined, and pure, so a good point of departure for a place when definitions are crucial and precision is critical. Starting with Zen koans may be intellectually titillating, but ultimately unsatisfying, and open to all sorts of interpretations, and misunderstandings of Buddhism. Soto Zen is better, IMHO, ‘sitting only’, meditation the ‘bedrock’ of a new beginning…

And what about that love in the title? Haha, gotcha’. Yep, if you wanna’ win over Christians, you gotta’ talk about love all the time, or, as the Buddha would say: “in the beginning, in the middle, and in the end.” And that’s no problem, BUT—it’s a different kind of love, and that means no passion, or not much, anyway, more like compassion, and empathy and plain ol’ friendship. No, there is no Middle Way with a life based on emotion, and that’s a lesson Christians need to learn, before it’s too late…

The proper attitude in religion is about being humble, and that’s common to them all, and a source of much misunderstanding, from those who consider it weakness. It’s not. Religion is not about worship, not for me, but it’s about respect, for our limits, which define us. This gets out-shouted by the Western need for freedom without limits, but there’s a word for that, several of them, in fact: global warming, world wars, poverty and hunger. That’s what you get with no limits…

Ironically there is more true freedom within limits, because there it knows its place and its raison d’etre. Without it there is only chaos and confusion. So if maybe traditional Buddhist monks in bunks could use a little more freedom, Christian capitalists could make do with a lot less. That’s the only way forward for this world, I’d say….