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Buddhadharma : Summer 2014
38 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY SUMMER 2014 UDDHADHARMA: Buddhism has always been shaped by whatever culture it enters. In Tibet it was influenced by the Bön tradition, in Japan by the Shinto religion, and in China by Confucianism and Taoism. Here in the West it seems that it is the encounter with psychology, even more than religion, that is shaping Western Buddhism. What are some of the ways that our psychology- infused culture may be influencing how we receive Buddhism in the West? JACK KORNFIELD: Science and psychology are two of the main religions of our time, in the sense that they’re the way we make meaning of our lives. Because Buddhism is a science of the mind as much as it is a religion, it fits very well within our Western culture. Modern neuroscience is validating observations about the mind that Buddhists have known for thousands of years. When I first began to study Buddhism, it was common to hear put-downs of Western psychology and Western psychotherapy in major Buddhist centers. There was a widespread belief that meditation alone would answer every- one’s problems, and if you were a really good Zen or Vipas- sana or Vajrayana practitioner, you wouldn’t need therapy. Now I could give you the names of abbots of those same cen- ters who are themselves seeing therapists—they have realized projection therapy B that there’s a complementarity between meditation and the interpersonal skills of Western psychology. The cultural lens in Buddhist Asia is largely one of devotion and karma; people make offerings and pray at temples for their children to get into a good school or for their business to perk up or to have better karma in the future. Our lens is much more scientific and psychological: how do we live with our own minds in ways that make us happy or unhappy? BUDDHADHARMA: Do you think our Western psychological lens is limiting the kinds of Buddhist teachings that we take in? Is it forming a kind of cultural container that isn’t as porous as it might be? BODHIN KJOLHEDE: Yes, I think it does, in the way that any cul- tural idiom limits anything. Take, for example, the Buddhist teaching of the six realms. I suspect that most Westerners tend to see them in a psychological sense, as states of mind—hell- ish, craving, heavenly, and so on. We find these realms more meaningful when interpreted this way. Similarly, it can be extremely helpful for Westerners to see the bodhisattvas of Mahayana Buddhism not as separate beings outside of our- selves but as aspects or archetypes of our own nature. These are natural ways in which Buddhist teaching has adapted to our own culture.