My wife majored in Physical Anthropology in college and was required to take a few mandatory Cultural Anthropology classes. She is more scientifically minded so the “soft” aspect of Cultural Anthropology didn’t appeal to her (we both prefer measuring bones and comparing teeth of long dead mammals rather than the cultures of recent, ancient or dying cultures). That being said she had a few interesting comments concerning some of the traditions of the Hopi and Navajo tribes. While I can’t cite actual references I do recall that aspects of modern life become ritualized and conceptualized quickly in their religious tradition.
So, a tradition that began 50 years ago would have the same prominence as one that has gone on for centuries. They were able to maintain, even through the near destruction of their culture by Europeans and the American Government, a solid foundation of their past as well as create new and growing traditions along the way.
Holding fast to the traditions of the past while simultaneously creating new ones seems like a perfect middle way for me.
It leads me to wonder about the many Buddhist traditions that are alive in the West and how they are changing, both organizationally and individually. Now, personally, I could give two flying fucks about how an organization is changing with the times. While many “traditional” Buddhist sects do adopt new traditions in response to changing interests and times (Monastics teaching secular meditation, Shin temples offering meditation classes, less formal Zen centers). Organizationally, these changes are dull and administrative. Their reasons for change relate to increasing numbers and attendance. This is fine and necessary but, in the end, boring.
What I am curious about is how an individual’s practice is changing over time. My personal practice started as academic, practical and secular (with no hints at a transcendent focus). As my practice evolved it became slightly more transcendent by broadening out from the “this worldly” to a slightly more “outer-worldly” viewpoint. Admittedly, my practice is still rather secular but with a more ritualized focus. My emphasis is on seated and active meditation and mindfulness but I have added nembutsu practice as well as altar offerings, chanting and recitation.
I still feel that my practice is based in the “traditional” aspect of Buddhism. What specific “Western” or “Contemporary” element could be included in one’s practice? What have you added? Are the older traditions drying up, leaving our practice and focus desiccated and cracked or are they flourishing? It seems that many times in Buddhist history, pivotal figures have restored some of the vigor of Buddhist practice. Where are those figures now?