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Buddhadharma : Summer 2019
74 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER'S QUARTERLY that bear these names. At the same time, as someone who has been exposed to Hindu teachings throughout my life, discussions of Bud dhism that don’t even gesture at its shared roots with Indian reli gious traditions feel like cultural erasure. It seems as though, in addi tion to ignoring the physical presence of South Asians, the Western Insight tradition seems intent on ignoring the South Asian cultural and philosophical presence within Buddhism as well. My point is not simply that many Western Buddhist circles are guilty of cultural or spiritual appropriation. Rather, it’s that by exploring Buddhism without acknowledging its complex history, these groups miss something important about Buddhism itself. In the words of Gombrich, “to present the Buddha’s teachings with out explaining its Indian background [is] to miss many of its main points.” Gombrich illustrates this by discussing Buddha’s rejection of the existence of a “soul.” He points out that the soul the Buddha rejected was not the soul in the Christian cultural tradition. Instead, what he denied was the Upanishadic theory of the soul, or atman, according to which (roughly speaking) the soul is equated with the essence of the universe. If you think of the soul in Western terms, you’ll misunderstand the Buddha’s central point; once you locate this teaching in in the correct context, however, it becomes clear that the Buddha’s argument was against a concept of the soul that, as Gombrich says, “very few Westerners have ever believed in and most have never heard of.” By failing to acknowledge Buddhism’s roots, Western Buddhist sanghas run the risk of not only alienating South Asians but also missing the depth of Buddhist practice itself. Perhaps most danger ously—as professors Shreena Gandhi and Lillie Wolff have argued By failing to acknowledge Buddhism’s roots, Western Buddhist sanghas run the risk not only of alienating South Asians but also of missing the depth of Buddhist practice itself.