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Buddhadharma : Fall 2017
76 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly fall 2017 Buddhism and the American Character by Bodhin Kjolhede We who have grown up in this land of choices have become savvy consumers, practiced at sorting through our options in order to maximize pleasure and minimize displeasure. Yet through our very success at getting our way, we also bind ourselves to the poles of grasping and rejecting, thus sabotaging our efforts toward freedom. Ultimately, the integrity of American Buddhism rests on our going beyond the freedom to (have, get, buy, etc.) so that we may find the freedom from our desires themselves. As Americans, we’ve shown the impulse to remake Buddhism, demanding that the dharma accommodate itself to us, rather than our accommodating ourselves to the dharma. But while our national character presents significant challenges, it has other, more positive, sides to it. Our individual self-identities come with self-awareness and independent, critical thinking, making us less vulnerable, perhaps, to deranged leadership. Our preoccupation with morality may ensure that sila holds its own in American practice with dhyana and prajna. The upside of our impatience is energy, drive, and a sense of time passing. And our tendency to feel entitled to happiness may keep us reaching for it until we realize it couldn’t be anywhere but right here. Fall 2006 forum: Is Western Psychology Redefining Buddhism? Judy Lief: One cultural frame that Buddhism falls into in the West is that of self-improvement. We tend not to think of the dharma as a way of life, as something that completely infuses everything. Westerners also have a bias toward rationality; we tend to be quick to dismiss what we perceive as magical thinking. I think we lose something in the Western emphasis on fixing our sorrows and becoming more at ease, rather than being willing to step into what is unfathomable. Jack Kornfield: We live in a compartmentalized culture, where the body is tended to at the gym, money in the marketplace, and religion, if you have it, in the church, synagogue, or mosque. But Buddhist teachings are of a whole. They’re an invitation to liberation, to live from a free heart and spirit no matter where you are, so when the dharma gets translated into only psychotherapeutic terms, it can limit the imagination of human possibility. Western psychology is largely based on a pathological model of curing disease. Through that lens, we can lose the vision of liberation that’s possible for all human beings, no matter their circumstances. Summer 2014