Smile, Sit, Eat Curry!

There is no way of avoiding cultural difference within the Buddhist practice. At whatever shores Buddhism arrives, differences are bound to arise. New perceptions of Buddhist practice will bloom and older ones will fade away. Some are resilient while others do not fit into a new, emerging framework.

Like a curry whose ingredients remains unaffected by the added spices to the recipe (that’s right, I’m hungry), Buddhism will adapt a new flavor but nourish all the same. Just like curry, Buddhism gets adapted into new cultures. Indian, Japanese, Thai and even American (the place by me in South Dakota pretty much goes the meat and potatoes route) cultures enjoy the taste without arguing which is more or less authentic than the curry they had in Philly or New York (or Bangkok or Kyoto). We may like certain styles better but brother, in the end, curry is curry and Buddhism is Buddhism.
Each culture will have specific ways of approaching practice – from the rites and rituals, scents and clothing to the language and cultural make-up of the sanghas. Its a whole lotta differences with the same ideal and pay-off in the end. Some people will fret over the changes that occur (or will occur) and others will take it on without a thought. Some people complain and fret over labels and constructs. They deconstruct rather than create.

Labels and constructs are, for the most part, a waste of time. Some of us attempt to use them to structure our thoughts (far from being perfect) other use them to categorize and pigeon-hole others.

If you want to hit the keyhole with the arrow, here is what you do:

  • Practice – That’s it just practice.
  • Welcome – Invite others – If someone wants to practice with you, welcome them.
  • Repeat – There. You are a sangha. Now repeat.

Cultures are different, yes. Religion is intertwined with culture, yes. Some sanghas will be primarily one ethnicity rather than another. Some will be a mix. As an example, Greeks will congregate at a Greek Orthodox Church, that Church will be full of Greeks. That church is serving two functions; one religious and one cultural. Greeks learn about their heritage and their language and history as well as about their religion. These are both important. I can’t express how important they are. Someone – a non-Greek – walks in and sees a bunch of crap (and there is a bunch of crap in a GO Church) and figures that it detracts from the core teachings. There is nothing inherently racist in this situation. The congregation will accept a newcomer and a newcomer will get used to (or learn the significance of) the “crap”.

OK, back to Buddhism. Huge difference is that any Convert Buddhist has no cultural attachment to the religion. They switched over purely (usually from my point of view) for doctrinal reasons. As such the outlook between a White/Black/Hispanic/Asian (many Asian do fall right smack into the “convert” camp, lest we forget) Convert and an Asian Buddhist w/cultural affinities will differ. This is not inferring one is better than the other or that one is a more “pure” form of Buddhism. It is simply stating that those cultural ties lead to a much deeper involvement into the religion. For example, I am still Greek and am tied culturally to that Greek Orthodox Church no matter what I call myself or what path I take spiritually.

So to anyone that cares enough to read this, let me make one more suggestion – Ignore those last two paragraphs – they are full of crap. Go back to the beginning and practice, welcome others and repeat. That should be enough ( if it isn’t now then it will be evenutally). Then smile, sit, chant nembutsu, read sutras, drink tea, have a beer and laugh.

Nothing else is needed. Everything else is worthless. If someone calls you “homespun” or stupid or racist or ignorant then just sit, welcome them to sit with you and repeat. Don’t offer the beer until after you know where they stand on the 5th Precept, however – that can get ugly too – but tea is just as good.



6 thoughts on “Smile, Sit, Eat Curry!

  1. This is just what I'm doing, starting a new sangha. It feels good to just practice and invite others. This article is so timely right now, thanks.

  2. @ Kyle and Adam – I'm glad you liked it. The answers seem so simple sometimes. I just hope that they actually are.

    @ Constance – Wonderful! I checked your link. The only problem with small home-sanghas is that they can hit capacity very quickly. Our small sangha made a n agreement with a local yoga studio to use a backroom as a zendo off hours. Sometimes we get as many as 15-20 or as little as 4. It is a great feeling to sit in a "homespun" rural sangha especially when you go in and realize that everyone is new.

  3. Hi Jack,

    I appreciate your sense of lightness and hospitality, even with all the contentious arguments that have been going around lately. No matter how easy or complicated the answers might be, both of those qualities you seem to consistently display go a long way in defusing conflicts and opening the doors to peace and compassion.


  4. @ Nathan – Namaste! I don't want people to feel as if I am arguing behind a wall of anonymity. Throwing rocks and hurling insults just because I can.

    Rather, these online spats feel like every heated discussion I have had with my family over…well…anything. We yell and argue and gesticulate but in the end, even after a bitter argument, we all smile laugh and sit down together.

    This is how I view this online community. One big, diverse and contentuous family. We may never see completely eye to eye but we do strive to.

    Thanks again for the support, Nathan, it is appreciated.

    @ everybody – Bows to everyone! We argue and twist and turn in the wind but in the end we all suffer from that same wind. Just keep striving to reduce the suffering of people around you and we should be fine.


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