There seems to be a rising tide of westerners interested in Buddhism who demand that it be “westernized” asap, stripped of ritual and anything “Asian.” The truth is, most of us have barely scratched the surface, and already we’re making judgments about which parts of Buddhism are “essential” and which aren’t.These words are indeed of some comfort to me, but they fail to deal with a central concern in a couple of previous posts. Aside from the many issues with what “Western” means, the discussion of “Western Buddhism” is still one that marginalizes Asian Buddhists of the West in the very community where we comprise the outright majority. Apparently we may be welcome into Western Buddhism, our contributions admired, our history acknowledged—but only so long as our say is not proportional to our greater numbers. This Western Buddhist rhetoric is so offensive precisely due to its implicit suggestion that Asian Westerners and our culture do not properly belong in the West.
The more time I spend with this remarkable tradition, the more grateful I am to the Asian teachers for their care and practice through the centuries. I feel no rush to “westernize” anything. First we should be sure we can maintain the teachings with the same care that brought them to us.
I have a hunch that there will never be a distinct Western Buddhism, so the very discussion of it may be in vain. We live in a world that is ever more globalized, interconnected, transnational and multicultural in ways that defy historical precedent. Imagine what the Buddhist blogosphere will be like with millions of Chinese Buddhist bloggers! What this increasing entanglement also suggests, however, is that while there may not emerge a “Western” Buddhism, Buddhism in general will appropriate more “Western” features. And perhaps the West will also become more Buddhist.