Practice Past Authenticity

Karen Maezen Miller writes of her Japanese garden as an analogy to the discussion of authenticity and context of American Buddhism:

Shortly after my husband and I moved into our house with its old garden, we invited the experts and academics over tell us what to do. Some would say that our backyard is Southern California’s oldest private Japanese garden, dating from 1916. Some would say that it isn’t; that by virtue of geography, topography, plant selection, and cultural anthropology, it can’t ever be Japanese. We were twisted into a fit by these and other debates about the right way to care for the place. Heaven forbid we make a fraudulent move when we were already paralyzed by ignorance from the get go!

She makes a worthy point that we shouldn’t let ourselves be paralyzed into inaction while we fret over the authenticity of our practice. It’s worth noting that this very same discussion occurs frequently in the Buddhist Asian American community, as I was regretfully honored to be reminded of the other weekend. As Miller writes: Practice is practice. Debates, however, are debates.

One thought on “Practice Past Authenticity

  1. Archivist’s Note: Comments have been preserved from the original website for archival purposes; however, comments are now closed.

    Jack DawSeptember 14, 2009 at 12:02 PM
    Wonderful post and point well taken! When people insist that your practice is incorrect, flawed or not “authentic” we should take that time to examine our practice. After examination – if it still feels right – then continue.

    This should take approximately 5 minutes. If there is one thing I am honestly not concerned about, its the legitimacy or authenticity of my practice…and grammar…and spelling.

    You mention that this is brought up often in the Asian American Buddhist community. I would be curious as to what aspects of practice are considered to be unauthentic from that viewpoint?

    AdamSeptember 14, 2009 at 4:19 PM
    Great post, many thanks.

    SeanSeptember 14, 2009 at 7:38 PM
    This serves to resolve, to me, some doubts, such that I now see were aimed to fall out of place, if the doubts would ever have been voiced. That being addressed, they cease to appear to be such poignant doubts.

    To not be only opaque, in case the reader would find any interest about what I’m referring to: I have questioned whether it would be wise to rely on only one sutra for the definition of the Buddhist canon. I understand that a community might rely on a single sutra, for fulfilling the nature of their devotional practice. I think it would be limiting to the practice and limiting to study, however, if one would hold one sutra in such regard that it would be rendered as if it was the only valid sutra in its time.

    Perhaps that is not even the case…. but such might be to the nature of debate, indeed. Now, I guess I can see this. In such regards, I might now come to consider that I should abandon any desire for argument about authenticity.

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