Thursday, October 20, 2016

Modern Or Moribund?

Buddhism throughout its traditional homelands is not in a healthy state. A complacent and conservative Sangha has been slow or even reluctant to adjust to the modern world. The approach seems to be just to keep repeating what has been done for centuries. In particular, Buddhism in Japan  is pretty much  terminal and like Christianity in some western countries, seems irrelevant  to most people, especially the young. News from Japan tells of a few monks (perhaps ‘priest’ would be more accurate; nearly  all Japanese Buddhist clergy  are married) who are trying to attract the young by presenting Buddhism in  ways that resonate  with them. Apparently one  priest  runs a bar, chats with customers and chants suttas as he pours their drinks. Another priest  is attempting to attract the young by transmitting the Dhamma through rap and hip-hop music. I am reminded of Gomo Tulku, the so-called Rapping Rimpoche - fancy coiffure, dark sun glasses, leather jacket, torn jeans, the whole works.
Surely there is enough in the Dhamma that, presented in modern language and  through modern media  can be meaningful and attractive! And of course, awareness of problems and doing something about them NOW, might  mean that radical compromises do not have to be resorted to. It seems to me that when a religion has sunk so low that you have to  jettison  some of its basic doctrines or characteristic features in a desperate effort to attract people, then it’s time to throw in  the towel.
On the ‘innovative’ Japanese pre priests mentioned above see -  


Wilfried W. A. Linse said...

There are always very little steps to destroy the Sanga. Destroying the Sanga means destroying the Triple Gem. I agree with you Banthe, that if it is so far that nobody seems to be attracted for this religion except through kind of amusement the throw it in the towel.
Pity but obviously true ...

Jayarava Attwood said...

I'm glad you're saying this. If lay people or other outsiders say things like this they are summarily dismissed.

But isn't part of the problem that the Sangha has been like this for many centuries and modernism has raised our expectations? For so long many lineages of Buddhism saw bodhi as unattainable. Once that goal is abandoned, the sangha loses its raison d'etre. The Romantics of the 19th century read Pāḷi scripture - and perhaps were the first to do so for centuries - and found in bodhi a parallel for the longings of the Romantic imagination. They reinstated bodhi as the primary goal of a Buddhist, bypassing those bhikkhus whose role was largely ceremonial. A living tradition of enlightenment seems to have been sustained in Tibet, but was burdened with political power and material wealth.

Where bhikkhus are making definite progress in liberation, and there are a number of these now, the bhikkhusangha is regaining some relevance. Unfortunately for the bhikkhusangha the number of people gaining enlightenment outside the traditional two-tier monk/lay social model is increasing. Unfortunately for Buddhists, many people in other traditions (e.g. Advaita Vedanta) are having success as well. Although Vedantins are philosophically confused, their practices are none-the-less effective in undermining ego.

Bar-tending and rapping are just entertainment if the people doing it are not enlightened. However, if someone is enlightened then they could do more or less anything and it would be effective. The narrative of Buddhism is shifting away from those who merely preserve stories about enlightenment towards those who genuinely practice with liberation as their goal and attain at least some measure of what they seek.

Buddhism as religious window dressing has little appeal in the modern world. We have not cornered the market in lovely legends or in practical compassion. Most of the most compassionate people, the people making a positive difference in the world, are not Buddhists. However, Buddhism as a living lineage of enlightened people is as relevant as ever.

Mark Tatz said...

"Irreverent"? Ha ha. I think you mean "irrelevant." And Japanese Buddhism is "terminal"? Get a college education before posting as an expert.

Ken and Visakha said...

Japanese Buddhism, as seen in the German movie "Enlightenment Guaranteed" is principled and disciplined, but of course that's only the training period. In our experience, normal temple business is funerals, and many ordinary people view priests as dirty old men. The last "ritsu" (vinaya sect) celibate monks of Toshodaiji passed away some years ago. Japanese priests marry and pass the temple on to their oldest sons. Priests drink, funerals include sake and although a priest's grandparents might have been vegetarian, the "shojinryori" is reserved for pricey temple restaurants while normal fare is meaty and fishy and alcoholic. Temples are museums and while many aspects of Japaneseness are Buddhist, many people see the religion as dark.

Shravasti Dhammika said...

Dear Mark, thanks for pointing out the typos. More and more I understand why they call them printer’s devils. But reading your comment I wondered if you meant to accuse me of “posing as an expert” or “posting as an expert”? The first I have managed to get away with for decades. As for the second, I am, as you have very ably highlighted, a bit of a failure.

Ken and Visakha said...

Dear Bhante,

You're not going to get away with that! Professing to be a bit of a failure! Your example, your books, your scholarship, your blog, your patience, your friendship, your example .... have we mentioned your example?! This is the time we should say thank you for all your work, your kindnesses, your example. Sadhu! Sadhu!! Sadhu!!!

In the Dhamma,
Visakha and Ken