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Buddhadharma : Winter 2006
buddhadharma| 51 |fall 2006 up with many different ways to alleviate suffer- ing. The challenge today, as Buddhism continues to spread in the West, is to come up with a way to respect that other people have interesting, valid, appropriate approaches that may not work for us but may be a wonderful Buddhist path for them. Being a good Buddhist doesn’t require me to think of my tradition as especially true in comparison to others. It can be true and appropriate for me, and I can approach the paths of others with respect and curiosity. One of the fascinating things about America is that, for the first time in Buddhism’s long history, we have many lineages and traditions next to each other and sometimes in dialogue with each other. At times they may not be in dialogue with each other, but they may all be on the same street. You may have a Thai Theravada temple, and just down the street a Tibetan one, and then a Vietnamese one. For the first time in the history of Buddhism, we have this kind of diversity and multiplicity of traditions in one place at one time. We can choose to be grateful about that or we can consider it a problem. Socho ogui: Since we are not perfectly enlightened yet, each of us needs some kind of pathway, like a stream or river, to carry us. Each path needs to be based on the Buddha, dharma, and sangha, and especially a realization of dharma, for which you better have some kind of teacher. There are 84,000 paths, and each stands on the Buddha, dharma, and sangha, so each path is respected. As we go through each unique path, we can go beyond even Buddhism, and our stream can lead into the great ocean and become one taste alike. But we all need some path to go through, just like we would with any field we enter in this world. Does this Japanese wisdom work? Sometimes I speak very strange English, so you better be careful and don’t believe it too easily. Buddhadharma: Very strange English can be very helpful sometimes [laughter]. You have all discounted the term “ethnic Buddhism” as inappropriate and also called into question the notion of a divide to some extent. Yet we know that members of communities sometimes view other Buddhists with at least skepticism. How do BCA members and the hierarchy regard other forms of Buddhism or other Buddhist groups? ron KoBata: I obviously can’t speak for the whole hierarchy or membership, but I don’t think in gen- eral that we have, within our tradition, the notion of having a monopoly on the truth. The spirit that Socho Ogui was conveying is pretty representative of our tradition, even though we have the Japanese term, Jodo Shinshu, which means “true sect of the donfarber How we See eacH otHer Wendy cadge explores how members of two very different american theravada communities – Wat Phila in Philadelphia and the cambridge insight meditation center – see each other’s practice. To fully understand how people at Wat Phila and cimc understand their per- sonal practices, it is helpful to listen to what they say when they describe each other. White buddhists have been quoted as saying that asian buddhists do not practice. What they mean when they say this is that asian buddhists do not meditate, because for many white buddhists, as evident at cimc, bud- dhist practice equals, or at least starts with, formal sitting meditation. bob, a practitioner at cimc for several years, told me in an interview that “buddhism is meditation.” Jack Kornfield writes, “i saw that the majority of buddhists in asia do not actually practice. at best they go to the temple devotionally like Westerners go to church. they go once a week to hear a sermon or a few moral rules or to leave a little bit of money to make some merit for a better rebirth in the next life.” this emphasis on meditation as the core of buddhist practice for laypeople, as articulated by Kornfield here and at cimc, is new and developed in america. Practitioners at Wat Phila are generally quiet about the activities of white bud- dhists. many say that all buddhists are the same but occasionally express genu- ine puzzlement at the activities of white buddhists. “it seems pretty much lately that more and more people are interested in buddhism,” noo, a middle-aged thai engineer, told me over lunch, “but most of the time i can see that they are modifying it [from] the real buddhism.... some of them like meditation, so they just chose that part, the meditation. but if you do the meditation and you say ‘i am a buddhist,’ you’re not a total buddhist you know.... it’s like halfway. Just like when you go to school to learn to be a programmer, you can’t say, ‘i’m a computer engineer.’ you’re just a programmer.” While people at Wat Phila recognize what white people are doing as meditation, some view it as only one of the practices central to buddhism. White practitioners’ attitudes toward thais’ practices were evident one evening when i was driving home from cimc with a friend after a meditation class. We talked about a thai temple in boston that i had visited the sunday before and she had visited some weeks earlier as part of a buddhism class she was taking. “We met the abbot and he showed us his path for walking meditation outside; it was just beautiful, that he can walk there between the trees,” she told me. “What about the laypeople?” i asked. “how do they practice?” she seemed a little confused at the question. “they mostly seemed to be prac- ticing generosity through dana,” she told me. “they come and cook and serve the food.” “so this is their practice?” i asked. she was silent for a few moments and then spoke carefully, reflecting on the time she spent working as a cook at a buddhist retreat center. “yes, i guess that could be their practice. When i was working at ims [insight meditation society], cooking was a large part of my practice and the teachers worked with me a lot around that.” considering the cooking done in asian temples as part of buddhist practice was a stretch for my friend, who, like many at cimc, view practice as starting on the meditation cushion. from Heartwood: The first Generation of Theravada Buddhism in America, by Wendy cadge. Published by university of chicago Press.