Buddhist Fundamentals or Buddhist Fundamentalists

Inspired by and in response to the recent post at Progressive Buddhism. Kyle went out on a limb to bring some new topics into the arena and we should thank him for it…and then yell at him. 😀

As we’ve seen recently, Buddhism is making inroads with some members of the Christian community, making for some very publicized, very heated debates. As Buddhism starts to spread into the more conservative areas of the West, the community is beginning to run head long into types of people who are pretty different from the Western Buddhists we are all used to.

I live in a very conservative area of the Great Plains (I am out here in ranch country) and I can’t say that I share this pessimistic view of Buddhist practice in the red states. For the most part there has been no conflict between political ideologies nor even a “run-in” with religious or spiritual ideologies. Actual most of the community is accepting of diverse views (for the most part, obviously there are still issues with atheists, homosexuals and people who where white after Labor Day).

Half of my practicing sangha are practicing Christians (although I am unsure of the exact denomination) and the other half are converted Buddhists. Some of us are expatriated “East-Coasters” and others are lifelong South Dakotans. In the long run there has been very little conflict over differing political beliefs and outlooks or lifestyles. That is not to say that we have many “conservatives” in our sangha (I don’t usually ask) but we do have many differing viewpoints. That is the beauty of a small sangha – we know everyone and there is very little anonymity – so if you want to make start making grandiose political statement (leftist or far right) you have to be prepared for some possible disagreement.

Are we ready for not only non-vegetarians, but those who perhaps hunt and fish for food? Are we ready for those who own guns, maybe are members of the NRA and are not pacifists? Are we ready for those who take pride in their rural roots, like country music and talk with a drawl? Are we ready for those who claim themselves to be *gasp* Republicans or conservatives?

I would say “Yes” to every one of those questions (I realize that they are somewhat facetious in nature) and add that there has always been a contingent of Buddhists with conservative beliefs participating in sanghas. It isn’t the fact that Buddhism is moving into the interior of the country that has caused this diversity. Rather it is the movement of more people towards varying spiritual and religious “paths”, whatever the geographic region. At one point it was explained that only one Path is the correct Path, then many Paths towards the same goal. I think now people are realizing that these Paths not only have the same goal but also intersect and wind around each other.

To not accept a person on a Path because it is paved rather than lined with crushed oyster shells is a poor spiritual outlook – no matter what your beliefs or denomination.

The important question will be, will tolerance of each others views prevail, or will we all just continue to splinter and factionalize based on things that have little to do with the basic teachings of the Buddha? We all suffer, liberals and conservatives alike, and I think it would be exceedingly disappointing if something as transitory as politics deprived anyone of finding some shelter from the storm of Samsara. The doors of Buddhism should never have a lock upon them.

I agree that Buddhism should be inclusive rather than exclusive. However, the important question in front of us is how we as Buddhists accept, not differing political stances, but differing religious viewpoints.

Recent events concerning Christians with an interest in Buddhism teachings has caused some concern in the Christian community whether or not parishioners or voters will accept a Bishop or Legislator who follows a Buddhist path as well.

This concern is being mirrored by some in the Buddhists community as well, in a seemingly up-swell of Fundamentalism in the Western Convert Buddhist community lately. Read the comments concerning the state of traditional Buddhist practices being accepted by Christian Churches or a Zen practitioner’s and Minister’s attempt at higher church office. A large percentage of the arguments are between Fundamentalists of both sides. The Buddhist Fundamentalists are just as frothy-mouthed and ridiculous as the Christian ones. Neither side is willing to listen to or accept the other side’s viewpoint. This was view was summed up nicely on Twitter…

Christian missionaries were not successful in destroying Buddhism 200 y ago, but it’s happening now here in Christian land.

Some Christians are accepting and incorporating Buddhist teaching and views into their own religious practice and we consider this something that is “destroying” Buddhism? Buddhists walking around thumping sutras, pushing philosophy and slinging quotes in reaction to practicing Buddhists is poor form – pure and simple. I started calling myself a Buddhist while still a church-going Christian. It took me 5 years of practice and reading to get to the point where I was able to move off of the paved path of Christianity and onto the crushed oyster shell path of Buddhism.

We shouldn’t be judging those that are just playing around with new paths. Rely not on the teacher/person, but on the teaching. Rely not on the words of the teaching, but on the spirit of the words. Rely not on theory, but on experience.Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. Do not believe anything because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything because it is written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and the benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it. – the Buddha

It seems that most of those experimenting path-goers are doing just as the Buddha suggested. Why don’t we let them make their own decisions and choices without insisting that they practice “true” Buddhism.

Smart guy that Buddha and a snazzy dresser to boot…he absolutely killed in the ’70s.


5 thoughts on “Buddhist Fundamentals or Buddhist Fundamentalists

  1. Yell away Jack, I'm used to it now. LOL

    "realize that they are somewhat facetious in nature"

    I'm glad someone realized that I'm not always so literal. 🙂

    "I think now people are realizing that these Paths not only have the same goal but also intersect and wind around each other."

    Excellent point.

    "The Buddhist Fundamentalists are just as frothy-mouthed and ridiculous as the Christian ones. Neither side is willing to listen to or accept the other side's viewpoint."

    Again excellent point.

    At least the yelling wasn't to bad. LOL

  2. If all were fundamentalists there would be no Buddhism (offshoot of Hinduism), there wouldn't be a Mahayana, a Vajrayana, a Chan/Zen, etc. Trying to hold down emptiness is a futile effort indeed.

  3. @ Kyle:

    Yeah, I am surprised that more people don't realize that your language is meant more to get people thinking then to actually classify. I use the same method when discussing politics with my parents. Some also call it being blunt.

    I actually enjoyed your post very much so I was not so much yelling or criticizing but showing where your comments brought me (Republican Buddhist to Fundie Buddhists).

    Either way it will be how Buddhism changes in the West. It looks to be a very robust tradition encompassing all 3 vehicles, New Age, Psychology, Convert and Non-convert as well as secular.

    I think the fact that there is a growing secular movement in the US is hard to ignore and shouldn't be ignored. It will take Buddhism to some new places. I look forward to it even though I do not particularly subscribe to it.

    And if every once in a while the great melting pot of Buddhism boils over a bit – so what.

    @ TianMind

    INDEED! It has got to change with the village. Just more to choose from. Personally, I don't buy into many of the Pure Land sutras and practice. That is a personal choice of mine but I enjoy learning about it and am more than willing to practice abit to see if it fits. There is always something to learn.

    On that note, I would like to spend some time practicing in the Jodo Shinshu tradition if the opportunity arose, to at least get a feel for it and practitioners.


  4. Okay, here is the acid test. Can those in the Great Plains who practice Buddhism take this? It's from the Dalai Lama.

    "Of all the modern economic theories, the economic system of Marxism is founded on moral principles, while capitalism is concerned only with gain and profitability. (…) The failure of the regime in the former Soviet Union was, for me, not the failure of Marxism but the failure of totalitarianism. For this reason I still think of myself as half-Marxist, half-Buddhist."

  5. We do have some Tibetan Buddhists out here but probably less Marxists.

    Sometimes you just gotta juggle the good with the….eh..not so good.

    But I have yet to get that "if you are a Buddhist, you are a socialist" thing out here. You have to go to upstate NY for that sorta thing.

    And to be fair, it seems that the Marxist/Buddhist acid test would fail nationwide from what I see on TV – and TV never lies to me.

    It is also tough to argue with the "capitalism is concerned only with gain and profitability" cause g-damn if that doesn't seem to be the case sometimes.

    But to answer your question: Yes, they probably would since a good amount of the population out here is Native American and the tribal society always seemed a bit socialist to me. (before anyone yells at me – I do not equate "socialist" with "bad").


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