where DSL and meadow grass collide

False Dichotomies November 29, 2011

Filed under: Buddhism,conflict resolution,social justice,twitter — clovernode @ 4:10 am


This is a response to the following post:

Although I don’t have time to get into an extended debate with the author, due to personal priorities, I feel that this
post merits a response.

It seems that some Buddhists would like to dwell in a rarefied atmosphere of "pure" Buddhism, which is untouched by
"mundane" concerns.  The idealization of any belief system to this extent is unrealistic and misguided, in my opinion.
To imagine that any religion has developed separately from the social and political concerns of the surrounding culture
of its time is simply glorifying ideas for the sake of ideas.  This is a misunderstanding of what the Buddha taught,
in my opinion. I believe that western Buddhism and the separation of church and state can co-exist, however.

It’s unlikely that one could live long in the West without having to come to terms with our heavily materialistic
culture.  In a monastic environment, a monk or nun may be able to claim that they are “removed from society” in terms
of keeping stricter vows and not charging money for teachings.  However, even monks and nuns are still taking part in
samsara, due to having to eat, drink, eliminate waste, and so on. In my understanding of the term, renunciation does not
mean throwing away our bodies, it means accepting the reality of our bodies, yet not clinging to either our body, other
material things, or even clinging to an expected outcome of our practice.

Unfortunately, it seems that those who would prefer to see Buddhism as “pure” or removed from the world rely on a false
dichotomy of "sacred vs profane" in order to disagree with other Buddhists’ involvement in politics, personal
discussions, or even common social courtesies.  Different interpretations of Buddhism really boil down to different
points of view.  How can any ordinary practitioner claim to have an exclusive understanding of what the Buddha meant?
This attitude may be possible to sustain in a monastic environment, within a forum of debate.  Even there, more
experienced teachers would judge the outcome of these debates.  I think household practitioners (which includes most
Western Buddhists) would benefit from realizing that they themselves make choices in living everyday which are
ambiguous at best.

For example, how do you reconcile your Buddhist beliefs with roadkill that you see on the highway?  What is the correct
Buddhist response to running over an animal on your way to work?  Have you considered that simply driving a car
automatically includes you in a culture of killing and maiming?  What would be the appropriate Buddhist remedy for

My point is that everyone interprets and acts on their Buddhist beliefs differently.  To say that being a “socially
engaged” Buddhist is a less accurate interpretation than being a “purist” or “fundamentalist” Buddhist is simply
another opinion or interpretation of what the Buddha meant.

With that introduction, here are my specific responses to parts of your post.  Although I respect your right to
interpret the Buddha’s teachings differently, it doesn’t necessarily follow that your claims in this post are backed by
Buddhist thought.  I’m comfortable with the same being said of my thoughts.

Starting with the title: “How Counterfeit Cultural Diversity and Social Justice are the Antithesis of Buddhist
Teachings.”  How do you know this to be true?  Have you had a dialogue with those who hold different viewpoints from
yourself?  Are you claiming that you are the only authority on Buddhist teachings?

First sentence: “It may be nice to think or to say that through Buddhist teachings, one will or must come to the
conclusion that social justice or forced cultural diversity is the end result of the Buddha’s teachings.” Kyle, who is
forcing you to accept anything?

I don’t agree with you that a person who identifies as Buddhist who also happens to value cultural diversity and/or
fights for social justice is a racist.  This claim is illogical at best.  Where is your proof of this claim?  How can
you possibly know the motives and thoughts of others without asking them?

I think that western Buddhism is a work in progress.  To claim otherwise is like taking a snapshot of a river, pointing
to it, and saying, “This is the river.”  The visible expression of “eastern” thought in “western” countries is still in
flux and ever-changing.  To say that western Buddhists are racist because American interest in Buddhism started in
mostly white western academic circles is uncharitable at best.  That’s like saying, “some humans are cavemen” because
evidence of early human existence is often found in caves.

Additional quotes from the linked post:

"the West continues to trap and confine itself in terms of a Buddhist path, based on nothing more than a superficial
and horribly unhealthy marriage of radicalism, powered by white elitism and basic Buddhist teachings…" I disagree.
Where is your evidence for this claim?

"…that there resides an overwhelming feeling this marriage of social justice and Buddhism is the only true and correct
path…" Who is forcing you to accept their interpretation of Buddhism?  Can you honestly say that you have had an actual
dialogue with someone who has said that?

"…marginalizing and disregarding the middle of the road, lower to middle class moderate folks…"  Again, who have you
talked to who is making this claim?  Can you provide concrete examples?

"The West needs to stop defining what being a Buddhist is…” Do you realize that you are a part of this amorphous entity
you call “the West,” and that you yourself are attempting to define Buddhism here for other Westerners?

"…how we can get others interested in exploring Buddhism in all its forms…"  I strongly disagree. My understanding is
that as Buddhists, we are not supposed to proselytize.  So therefore, unless someone asks, I tend to not discuss my
beliefs.  To be anxious about spreading a belief system to others, and taking that on as a moral obligation is usually
thought of as becoming a missionary. Proselytizing and missionary work is usually a Christian imperative, in my

"…where is room at the inn for the rest of us?"  Again, who is excluding you?

Thanks for the dialogue.  I’m glad I’m able to agree to disagree.


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