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Buddhadharma : Summer 2014
SUMMER 2014 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 43 L et us not mistake the radical nature of Buddhist method. It is destructive of culture and history, as some creatures die in order to bring forth their young. We cannot put Buddhism on like a new hat. Buddhism requires forgetting, rather than remembering; tearing down, rather than building; simplifying, rather than complicating. This may sound drastic, dangerous to our con- ventional way of life, but our conventional way of life has dangers too, it seems. With our heritage of Luther, Darwin, Marx, and Freud, the very word “religion” connotes the time before the intellect became master, the time before the individual emerged from the collective unconscious that was society before the Refor- mation. The intelligent man or woman who encounters Bud- dhism today does so as a fully developed isolated brain, aware both of the loneliness of isolation and of the loss involved in a return to group identity. With thousands of books in the Tripitaka, with dozens of sects in a dozen countries, with doctrines ranging from the sublime to the asinine, it is obvious that we must boil down, select, and discard. With our background of Calvinism, psy- chology, and semantics, our assimilation of the selected prod- uct will make us something strange, but the world is waiting for the oddity that will unite heart and brain at last. Our trivial concern about personal reputation must go by the board. At the beginning, the key to our selection is memory. FORGET. TEAR DOWN. SIMPLIFY. In significant ways, Western Buddhism is—and must be—something new. As Robert Aitken Roshi made clear fifty years ago, we shouldn’t be afraid of our creation. We cannot grasp an outside fact unless it first resides within, perhaps in a slightly different form. The unification of the inner and the outer produces the third thing, the unique syn- thesis of foreign and domestic. Chinese Buddhism is just this, China plus Buddhism. Fundamentally it is neither Chinese nor Buddhist, just as my son is neither me nor his mother. Indeed, the Sinhalese Buddhist and the Chinese Confucianist today regard Chinese Buddhism with the same uneasiness and distrust that many parents do their peculiar offspring, thinking surely the hospital must have made a terrible mistake. We may recognize a nose or a tone of voice, but the new child is himself, flesh and blood, and we cannot predict the man he will become. The greatest mistake of missionaries, Christian, Buddhist, or Vedanta, is to carry their religion intact to the new land like a bonsai. It will die unless kept in a hothouse, but if we just plant a Buddhist seed and water it, then perhaps it will grow into something that will shade all mankind, though its shape will be different and its name may be changed. Thoreau, Plotinus, Freud, Shakespeare, name them all, the giants of Western culture must lend their blood to the essence of Shakyamuni and his successive fathers, and then something we will perhaps call “Buddhism” will take hold and flourish in the West. Just toying with structures of foreign words won’t do it, nor will sentimentality in any form. We ourselves must change. Adapted from an article published in The Middle Way, Vol. XXXVII, No. 3, November 1962 neurosis