If you have not read the post on One-City on the secularization of Buddhism – I highly recommend that you do. While lengthy, it does bring up some great points and controversies in a positive manner. However….
Despite comments otherwise, we have already witnessed the secularization of Buddhism, it happen as soon as it hit our shores and I am so glad it did. Once Buddhism became more popular in the West, the huge doctrinal push was towards zazen and meditative practices…practices that were not ordinarily undertaken by lay-practitioners of Buddhism in the East – Buddhism needed a new cultural base. The best description I heard of this new movement was from a practicing friend who commented that he wished to be something more than a layperson and not exactly a monk. He wanted the discipline but not the asceticism – the Buddhism but not the Bullshit. (so the language may be insulting but I do not mean to infer that non-western Buddhism is Bullshit – far from it – It serves its purpose in the political climate and culture that it is exposed to. I expect the same to happen here, Buddhism will flow into whatever societal need that is available – funerary, meditative, social or doctrinal).
So the secular West attached itself to Buddhism – specifically Buddhist practice and philosophy but left Buddhist ritual and rites on the sidelines. The drive was towards an individualistic and non-hierarchical system because that is what people needed it to be. I don’t think this was done for a distaste of the more esoteric and religious aspects of Buddhism (personally, I enjoy much of the esoteric as well as the transcendental aspects of my practice), but rather because that role was already taken by other religions in the West. Buddhism was providing something different. I think what it was providing was some amount of control. That control is all about the choice.
Rather than being viewed as a “stripping down” of Buddhist teachings, I prefer to see it as a broadening of Buddhist practice. We are not culturally designated a specific school, sect or vehicle and it is thus much easier for us to meld different traditions together into a cohesive whole-practice. One that fits into our lives and our needs. Control.
But while this freedom is invigorating, the simple fact is that we are practicing without a real framework (its the double-edged sword of Independence). The type of framework that develops over hundreds of years of practice and infrastructure is the type we are lacking. And while I tend to be wary of those frameworks and what they can (but not necessarily do) represent (close-mindedness, tunnel-vision and group-think) I do appreciate that it does provide a certain amount of spiritual guidance and social structure and, frankly, awesome Buddhist BBQ.
For the poor small-town or Midwestern Buddhist, we have none of that. We rely on what small community we can find or create and then endeavour to teach ourselves what amounts to be a convoluted, lengthy and difficult religious philosophy (the entire Pali Canon that is translated into English takes up at least 5 feet of shelf space). A secular, cohesive approach makes that much easier for the lay-person to get started in practice or to at least understand the basics is important – no matter what the label is.
From the words of Soen Roshi:
To get this chance to practice the dharma is very difficult. To be here as a human being is very difficult. Among uncountable sperm and egg…you are here. Wonderful chance. Congratulations.
So strive on with your analytical meditation or with your Sutta Nipala, with your Hardcore Zen or your Big Mind. I honestly don’t care but I hope that it works for you and you are a happier person for it…and if it doesn’t work then go tantric or yogacara or zen or tibetan or maybe secular or forest style or Shin or Nichiren or just sit with a bunch of hippies in your hometown or a bunch of conservatives in your law office or do like me and sit with your child and enjoy every minute of it because, brother, if we learn one thing…its that it don’t last for more than a moment – this wonderful chance – and then is gone.