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Buddhadharma : Summer 2017
summer 2 0 1 7 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 83 Mainstream Western society is not very collectively motivated. Our fami- lies are small nuclear ones, rather than the extended clans or networks common in so many other cultures. We can hear the teachings of how everything and everyone is interconnected and yet not be connected to, or even aware of, the people and cultures in our near vicin- ity. The Dalai Lama has observed, “In the West, you have bigger homes, yet smaller families; you have endless con- veniences, yet you never seem to have any time. You can travel anywhere in the world, yet you don’t bother to cross the road to meet your neighbors.” FOR THE PAST SEVERAL decades, social psychologists have been explor- ing the impacts of differing cultures on psychology and human behavior. The current consensus is that nearly every social-psychological phenomenon is culturally dependent. From this has emerged a descrip- tion of what might be called two broad cultural archetypes: one that empha- sizes, implicitly and/or explicitly, the individual experience, and one that emphasizes, implicitly and/or explicitly, the collective or group experience. The former has been described as an “inde- pendent” cultural modality, and the latter as an “interdependent” cultural modality. It is very interesting that, for the past fifty-plus years, the wisdom teachings of the Buddha have been transmitted from their Asian cultures of origin—“interdependent” cultures— to the largely “independent” cultures of Europe and the United States. Just as social-psychological phe- nomena are culturally determined, so too are matters of spirituality, includ- ing the dharma. Many of our Western dharma communities, largely focused on European American values and norms, have yet to examine how the dharma has been changed in its transition and transmission from interdependent cul- tures to independent cultures. Moreover, our own cultural reinterpretation of the dharma is largely an unconscious, unex- amined phenomenon. This reinterpretation will necessar- ily have complex consequences. The legacies of colonialism is oppressive— cultural appropriation can be a continu- ation of that history of dominance. This appropriation can be expressed through a dominant culture exercising its privi- lege, ability, and, most important, power to pick and choose what cultural forms to absorb or discard. The separation of mindfulness practice from the eightfold path—and the rest of its spiritual lineage of ethics—in order to be efficacious in secular, corporate, for-profit, market- driven worlds is only one example. We also have yet to seriously consider the impact of the dharma as it spreads within multicultural communities. Strong interdependent cultural values, behaviors, norms, and social dynamics are inherent to the identity and cohe- siveness of many cultures, particularly cultures of color, Asian and otherwise. Shared experiences of marginalization and oppression within the dominant, European American, hetero-based, and able-bodied normative culture actually reinforce cultural values of interdepen- dency among such groups: minorities strengthen their core identities in order to survive the unconscious impact of the dominant culture’s oppressive uncon- sciousness. Cultural interpretations of the dharma focused on individuality and personal experience by teachers of European American descent and their communities do not resonate with those of us who share a cultural inclination toward interdependent ways of living and being in the world. We often experi- ence a subtle but real sense of exclusion when the dominant culture’s interpreta- tion of the Buddha’s teachings is offered through a cultural lens that overlooks the value of togetherness in favor of per- sonal, often solitary, practice. We see the impact of this interpreta- tion of dharma in the noticeable lack of emphasis on collectively creating more freedom and less suffering. There has been a great deal of emphasis on the development of meditation, awareness, and loving-kindness practice, and even dharma and scriptural studies, but these are by and large regarded as things to be personally experienced rather than car- ried out in community. Our mainstream culture thrives in the marketplace of “self-help”—help for the individual self. The message of self-help is reinforced by the language in which spiritual freedom is promoted: we can and should do it on our own, and there might be something wrong or broken with us if we can’t. This is the subtle message conveyed in many West- ern dharma teachings. And yet, intuitively, we know we need the support of others. Given that the dharma’s cultures of origin were very much interdependent, I do not believe that rugged individual- ism or personalization is the spiritual journey that the Buddha invited us to take. Although most contemporary Western converts to Buddhism are aware conceptually of the importance of interdependence, it may be that our dominant independent culture has rendered the teachings on this subject abstract. The Buddha was always precise in his guidance, and in the teachings on the three refuges, he elevated community as one of the three most important aspects of our spiritual life. He did not do this just to pay lip service to the collective aspect of our spiritual journey. He was inviting us to explore, as deeply as medi- tation itself, what it means to awaken together in community. He was inviting us to explore community itself as a prac- tice of cultivation. The more interdependently we feel, practice, and offer these teachings, the greater the impact they will have in our contemporary world. The Buddha is inviting us into a practice of awakening using the full energies of our ever-evolv- ing collective experience—of commu- nity. This is awakening together. We Walk the Path Together continued from page 62