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Buddhadharma : Summer 2015
summer 2 0 1 5 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly 39 I simply cannot explore in a Japanese monastery, wearing robes and following the schedule. Yet these are also the challenges I suspect I need to take on if I am ever going to become a full adult. Still, I think I also owe it to myself to give this practice and this tradition time, to put in the effort to learn the rules and rituals and customs. I owe it to myself to keep my clothing on—and the tradi- tion’s clothing on. If this is something that I really love and am committed to, then I have to believe it’s how I relate to those daily hardships and boredoms, the mess and the difficulty, that will sustain the practice anyway, as in any long-term relationship. But, I don’t like waiting. I’m not patient. Increas- ingly, I do want to take the clothing off, to be free and unhindered, to face the world directly without some rule or form shaping what I do. I worry that it’s my own fear of trusting myself that keeps me coming back to ceremony and tradition. What would happen if I trusted myself and my ability to face life as it is without shaping it in a certain “cor- rect” way? Would it be better to just be “normal,” to wear normal clothes and have hair and just be a decent person living a decent life? The Dalai Lama has said, “Stay in your own religion, and meditate... It is better to stick with the wisdom traditions of one’s own land than to run from them, pursuing in exotica what was under your nose all the time.” But Buddhism is my own religion, although my practice differs from my parents’. I do believe dharma is available to everyone; I don’t think the only people allowed to practice Buddhism are those who were born into a Buddhist culture. Despite this, it’s pretty clear to me that, as Lauryn Hill sang in her own song about keeping her clothes on, “Respect is just a minimum.” As I interact with Buddhism in Japan, respect for me means acknowledging the privilege and entitlement I bring into this as a white Ameri- can with the freedom and means to travel inter- nationally, to study different languages, to choose which parts of Buddhism I “like” and discard the rest. As Jay Garfield points out in an essay on eth- ics and translation, usually only one culture has the privilege of translating another. It’s often a one-sided process. “The work of the subordinate tradition is hence assimilated as an object of study,” he writes, “while the superordinate tradition can congratulate itself on having ‘broadened its hori- zons.’” So another part of respect means to also translate ourselves and our own culture—to look at ourselves and our identities and be able to articulate this to others. What is America? What are our deep- est cultural values? What privilege and expectation are we bringing to this? What kinds of American clothing are we dressing this up in? The empha- sis on psychological work, choice, and individual expression are just a few ways I see American Bud- dhism being dressed up in American clothes. These clothes are fine, as long as we can recognize that they are clothes. But I am not sure there is such a thing as a naked self or a pure, timeless, universal dharma practice that we can embody in a form unconditioned by history and culture. Maybe strip- ping isn’t even an option. I don’t know if I will always shave my head and wear these clothes. I don’t know when or even if I will go back to the country where I was born. If I do go back, I don’t know what form my life will take. I do know that I want to take my time study- ing Japanese culture; I know that I want to find the center of the wheel. Whatever form supports me most in this, that’s the form I will take. PHOTO | damien burge On the steps of Unsenji Temple in Okayama, 2015