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Buddhadharma : Fall 2007
fall 2007| 58 |buddhadharma a position to grapple with the interpretive problems that lie at the very core of these traditions. They can engage in one kind of conversation about Buddhism. Those who are not familiar with the texts in their origi- nal languages, who don’t understand the history, who don’t understand the institu- tional development of these traditions, are having a different kind of conversation. reed malcolm: Bookstores devote only a small amount of shelf space to religion books these days, and of that, books on Buddhism constitute an even smaller proportion. A majority of the dharma books you’ll see in the stores these days aren’t so much about Buddhism as they’re about psychology using Buddhism as the vehicle – self-help with a dharmic twist, how to be healthier, how to live a more fulfilled life using Buddhist concepts. This tends to fall in step with the pub- lishing industry as a whole, since the books and magazines that sell the best are those offering ways to improve your life. Perhaps there is nothing wrong with this. After all, liberation from delusion and suffering is the engine of Buddhist practice. However, it does make me wonder what readers are missing. Many people who consider them- selves Buddhists have read all the books by some of the more popular contemporary teachers, but I wonder if they understand the kind of broader context of Buddhism that Bob is talking about. I tried to find a good basic biography of the Buddha the other day and had a very hard time. If I met a Christian or a Muslim who told me they’d never read the Bible or the Koran but instead had relied on the teachings of their teacher for their understanding of their religion, I might find that a bit troubling, if not dangerous. Is the Buddhist book-buying public gobbling up works of Dharma Lite at the expense of books on the teachings When Buddhism moved to Tibet, to China, from China to Japan, it was trans- formed in profound ways. I realize a lot of Buddhist enthusiasts and self-proclaimed Buddhist teachers will argue that there is no fundamental transformation. They will say that there is an essential Buddhism that successfully moved from one culture to another, but I’m not so sure. Now a very large transformation is tak- ing place as it moves to North America, and I don’t believe that there is a funda- mental essence that moves from culture to culture that guarantees the authenticity of a particular tradition. In some people’s eyes that may mark me as not an authentic Buddhist or a believer, but I would point out that if Buddhism is anything philo- sophically, it’s a critique of essences. So, how Buddhism is published and spread in the media in the West has a profound effect on what Buddhism is and what it will become here. I cite, for exam- ple, a term that the longtime publisher of Tricycle magazine, Helen Tworkov, used somewhat ironically: Buddhism Lite. amy hertz: I also object to that term. It portrays a kind of arrogance toward the reader. robert sharf: I’m sure, Amy, that you would object to anything that sounds derogatory, but I think one has to leave room to make critical distinctions. In the same way that you want to preserve a space for a certain dignity for the popular reader, I would like to preserve a space for those who have spent thirty or more years of their lives learning Sanskrit, classical Chinese, Tibetan, or Pali, and who are in of the Buddha? tim mcneill: You can’t expect people to go out and put down sixty dollars for a copy of the Middle-Length Discourses, if they haven’t read something like Mindfulness in Plain English and developed an interest that would lead them to pursue Buddhism a little more deeply. amy hertz: When I got interested in doing Buddhist books, I didn’t intend to become a Buddhist publisher, like Shambhala, Wisdom, Snow Lion, or Parallax, since they’re already serving people who are interested in Buddhism. My goal was to broaden people’s interests, and then those people would leave the books I was doing and be fed into books by the specialty publishers. I was looking to new audi- ences, to housewives in the Midwest, to a whole group of people for whom this all sounded very foreign, people who never would have gained access to any kind of Buddhism at all. robert sharf: In talking about the differ- ences between one kind of Buddhist book and another, we could use the analogy of physics. There are serious physics books, which probably none of us here could understand, and there are popu- lar physics books that can transmit the excitement and the findings of physics to the public. However, in some very fun- damental ways those popular books mis- represent the sophistication, complexity, and the technical nature of this discipline. amy hertz: Don’t they simply omit rather than misrepresent? robert sharf: Most physicists I know would say that it’s not just omission. They are forced to misrepresent in ways that they would nevertheless completely sanc- tion. They know, though, that the only way to really see what’s going on is to get A problem did arise when the publishing industry got the idea that Buddhism would be a real profitable area. People who didn’t know anything about Buddhism started publishing Buddhist books, and they may have launched people into the forefront who might not have been authentic. — Amy Hertz 1970 1973 1967