http://www.UrbanDharma.org ...Buddhism for Urban America


The Urban Dharma Newsletter... October 7, 2003


In This Issue: Special / Buddhism and the Postmodern World

1. The Postmodern Buddha ...by Mark A. Pegrum
2. The Other Enlightenment Project
...Stephen Batchelor
3. A role of Buddhism in Postmodern Psychotherapy
...from MindIs.com
4. Maitreya Buddha - the future of Buddhism in the West
...from MindIs.com
5. Temple/Center/Website- of the Week:
6. Book/Movie Review: The Great Awakening: A Buddhist Social Theory
...by David R. Loy


1. The Postmodern Buddha / Spirituality is as close as the nearest gift shop ...by Mark A. Pegrum


Sitting on the shelf above my desk is a red velvet Buddha. Not just any red, mind you - it's so bright it's almost fluorescent. It came from the oddly assorted shelves of a small gift shop just off the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, and it's been sitting, watching serendipitously over the room, for about six months now. A focal point for visitors to my office, it's kitsch, it's camp, and everyone seems to love it. A friend, herself a Western(ized) Buddhist, told me it was the most inspiring statue of the Buddha she'd ever seen. I suspect she’s now trolling the gift shops for her very own version thereof - I’ll be interested to see what she comes up with.

Yet sooner or later, of course, as the owner of a red velvet Buddha, one is bound to ask oneself: Why? Why is it that atheists, agnostics, Christians and Buddhists take to it so quickly and easily? Why is it, indeed, that I have a red velvet Buddha sitting on my shelf, and not a pink fur crucifix or a purple suede Star of David? These questions, banal as they may seem, go to the heart of a cultural transformation currently taking place, and even gaining momentum, within the spiritual landscape of Western(ized) popular culture.

We find ourselves discussing the spirituality of Star Wars, debating the desecularization of science fiction stalwarts such as Star Trek, and in an uproar over the supposedly Wiccan implications of the bestselling Harry Potter books aimed at children. We've seen unicorns and ghosts on Ally McBeal, witnessed the transformation of the Material Girl Madonna into the Spiritual Girl, and have become immersed in the fatalism of the film Sliding Doors, not to mention its apocalyptic younger sibling Final Destination.

It’s not so long ago, either, that academia was rushing to comment on the spiritual significance of the public outpouring of grief over Princess Diana’s death. Vaclav Havel, poet, politician and president of the Czech Republic, takes this perspective:

    Today … we may know immeasurably more about the universe than our ancestors did, and yet, it increasingly seems they knew something more essential about it than we do, something that escapes us.

What is that something? Where has it escaped to? George Lucas, creator of Star Wars, gives us a hint when, in 1999, the year of the release of The Phantom Menace, he describes his series thus:

    It’s designed to make people think about the larger entities and the mysteries of life. Hopefully they will question them. There definitely aren’t enough answers in Star Wars to constitute a religion and I think that the point is to go and look through the religions and find something that has some answers.

And indeed, whether or not spurred on to do so by Star Wars, Western society is turning increasingly to the faiths of past generations as it seeks what Havel describes as “the creation of a new model of coexistence among the various cultures, peoples, races, and religious spheres within a single interconnected civilization.” We’re seeing the triumphal return of religion as we become more involved with the majority of the not-yet-secularized world, and begin to doubt our own secularization and blind faith in science and progress.

And then there’s postmodern theology. But hang on, you say. Postmodernism, and God? Surely Derrida, Foucault, Lyotard et al. have deconstructed, undermined and generally torn apart religion? Yet the realization has slowly been dawning that there is, indeed must be, as Brian J. Walsh indicates, a “Spiritual Face of Postmodernity”, which moves beyond the “imperialist, other-denying ideology of modernity” to welcome back religion as yet another - if not the ultimate - downcast “other”. If postmodernity is to curb the damage wrought by the often sterile rationalism of modernity, then it must also seek to move beyond the ferocious and even reactionary secularism of the latter.

While it’s too late for the late Foucault and Lyotard to reconsider, the deconstructionist guru Derrida has waded into the debate to argue for “the possibility of religion without religion”, where God is no longer seen as a transcendent being, but essentially as the idea of our cumulative, consensual responsibility to all other living creatures. This of course dovetails neatly with the postmodern paradigms of consensual truth and mutual tolerance. At any rate, if even Derrida is feeling obliged to take religion seriously, then there really is something afoot.

While it can be argued that there is increased interest in all things religious and spiritual, what is perhaps most striking is the rediscovery of Eastern religions in recent and contemporary popular culture of the West. Speaking of the role of spirituality in his Star Wars films, Lucas notes: "People have said these films are more Eastern than Western." Meanwhile, self-help books and home decoration magazines are telling us to watch our karma, keep our yin and yang in balance, and redesign our houses according to principles of feng shui. In a quiet moment, you can read Benjamin Hoff’s The Tao of Pooh or The Te of Piglet; you can watch Dharma and Greg on TV; and you can buy Samsara from the House of Guerlain, who describe it as the place “where Orient and Occident meet”.

Buddhism is given exposure through actors like Richard Gere and Steven Seagal, and airplay, as it were, through the songs of Tina Turner or interviews with Annie Lennox. Pop music, indeed, is full of references to reincarnation, the circle of life, and Hindu or Hare Krishna chants. Meanwhile, gift shops sell … red velvet Buddhas. Can this be coincidental?

Certainly, those monotheistic faiths, which are based on exclusive truth claims, sit ill with the ideas of consensual truth and mutual tolerance propagated in postmodern culture. There seems to be a highly ambiguous attitude toward our own Christian heritage: this faith which has brought us so much, and yet cost us so dearly. It is not that religion is to be rejected per se, a point which Kevin Smith’s movie Dogma makes quite clearly in respect of Christianity or, more specifically, Catholicism; it is rather church dogma and the supposedly absolute truth in which it is grounded that we must see beyond. As yet, within the Western Church, a certain doctrinal relaxation among various Protestant denominations is far from having been matched by Catholicism. 

Meanwhile, Islam, with its requirement of submission to the will of Allah, and its prescriptive roles for humans, is incompatible with many recent developments in our culture, and Judaism, too, for all its ideological tolerance, clashes with much in the Western cultural landscape as a result of its steadfast belief in the omnipresence, omnipotence and omniscience of a transcendental God.

Outside the Middle Eastern-Western pantheon, however, there are faiths of a very different ilk. While there are sometimes great variations between as well as within the major Eastern religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism, there is a conspicuous parallelism in their underlying principles. All of these share, to some degree, the idea of one ultimate reality beneath appearances and the interconnectedness of all life; all manifest a lack of dogma and internal hierarchy or authority, a disinclination to proselytizing, and an at least theoretical principle of non-violence.

Most importantly, perhaps, all are tolerant of other religions, allowing that there are many paths to God. Move east from the U.S. and Western Europe, says Johan Galtung, founder of the International Peace Research Institute, and you move toward greater openness and tolerance: “Faith loosens up: rather than the occidental either-or, this faith or that, there is an Oriental both-and, this faith and that one.”

The decline in the appeal of organized religion in the West, and a concomitant increase in personal spirituality, allow for the adoption of eclectic elements from different religions. The above-mentioned aspects of the Eastern religions make them ideally suited to the West’s current cultural concerns such as environmentalism, human rights and international peace; they fit in easily with postmodern models of tolerance, decentered power and deconstruction of binarisms and hierarchies; and moreover, they also link up with the issues of community and responsibility being propagated by various branches of contemporary postsecular theology.

In addition, their popularity is doubtless advanced in no small measure by the man who is, in the West, not only the best-known spokesman for Eastern religions but is perceived to be a victim of Chinese imperialism and - not insignificantly - secularism, namely the Tibetan Dalai Lama, winner of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize, who pleads constantly for tolerance toward others regardless of religious persuasion or lack of it, while stressing the importance of mutual responsibility and co-operation in the establishment of international peace. Small wonder that pop and rock singers have rushed to participate in concerts supporting Tibet; small wonder that Annaud’s Seven Years in Tibet and Scorsese’s Kundun were released in the same 12-month period.

In fact, it's not just to the East that the West is looking for inspiration, but also to the pockets of resistance which have always existed within Western traditions, as well to a time long ago, before the monotheistic Western faiths first took hold. On the one hand, then, we see a vastly increased interest in mystical traditions of all kinds - Madonna is not alone in turning to the Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), and there is also a widespread fascination with the various internal and often persecuted occult traditions of the European Christian past.

On the other hand, the rise of what have been called neo-pagan religions takes us back to a pre-Christian Europe: the Wiccan faith, for example, clearly represented in the recent music of Sinead O’Connor and storylines in Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, is supposedly a reconstruction of ancient Celtic beliefs, and displays astounding similarities to many Eastern religions. It is the rather loosely defined term “New Age”, a designation which has now moved beyond its limited association with Shirley MacLaine going out on a limb, that brings all these disparate threads together in a meeting of pre-Western, countercultural Western and - perhaps predominantly - Eastern traditions.

And there it sits: the red velvet Buddha on my shelf. The Friends of the Western Buddhist Order suggest that for Buddhism to take hold in the West, “it must learn to speak the language of Western culture.” Is that not what my Buddha represents, perhaps in a rather more literal and graphic way than the FWBO might have imagined? Isn’t this really a case of Andy-Warhol-goes-East, or Buddha-goes-to-the-Factory? Is this why so many Westerners take to my Buddha straight away - because the children of postmodern culture recognize, in some way, the clash of East and West which is both resolved and yet, simultaneously, remains unresolved in this single figure?

After all, as Havel reminds us, in a period like ours - one of quotation, imitation and amplification - “[n]ew meaning is gradually born from the encounter, or the intersection, of many different elements.” Is my Buddha not a symbolic recognition that postmodernism, for all its loud extravagance, apparent superficiality and materialism, is moving into a postsecular spiritual search - of which Star Wars is such a clear emblem, in which so many contemporary cultural figures are caught up, and to which even Derrida himself is bowing? And is it not equally a symbol of the potency of the East to provide us with new sources of inspiration as Western faiths seem to be flagging, or at least struggling to disentangle themselves from their own dogmas?

And yet: a word of warning. I am aware that there is, in certain respects, something faintly disturbing about my red velvet Buddha. First, in glossing over the more inconvenient aspects of Eastern religions - as indeed we do in our own homegrown faiths - and adopting only what suits us, we run the risk of betraying the integrity of the religions from which we are quoting, and interacting with them on merely the most superficial level.

Secondly, while it might be argued that the clash of serendipity and kitsch is cleverly conceived in my Buddha, and ironic in that winkwink postmodern way, and while it might even be maintained that in our late capitalist culture, irony is the only mode of critical distancing left open to us, is it not also possible that our cleverness represents a certain shying away from deeper issues we are unsure of how to confront? Thirdly, as always, commercialism rears its ugly head in the selling of spirituality in all its forms, from distorted do-it-yourself versions of the Kabbalah to the feng shui experts who come at a hefty price - not forgetting Madonna’s CDs or George Lucas’s Star Wars merchandise - … and then there are the red velvet Buddhas in the gift shops. Is the West, in picking and choosing, in recoloring and recoding, in buying and selling, undermining the spirit of the East, enveloping its Oriental otherness in Western trappings? Is my Buddha a bright, empty, saleable shell of something that, far away and long ago, had meaning?

In fact, the current Western vogue for Eastern spirituality is, perhaps like Eastern spirituality itself, less about either-or and more about both-and. Homage, and rip-off. Superficial, and sincere. What is certain is that the Eastern religions, and Buddhism in particular, have become increasingly popular over recent decades, and that our eclectic popular culture is more and more frequently turning eastwards for inspiration.

In our “New Age” cultural search for meaning, we find that many aspects of Eastern faiths sit easily with current Western social issues and beliefs, as well as with postmodern concepts and postsecular theology - much more so than certain aspects of Western faiths. Of course, the issue here is not the intrinsic “truth” or “untruth” of these religions; if indeed truth is consensual, and responsibility is mutual, it’s up to us to construct the reality we want, need and … deserve.

Whatever gaps there may be in our understanding of the East, it seems that we, in the West, can at least appreciate a red velvet Buddha on some level, and for a whole host of reasons. Those reasons are still evolving. Meanwhile, I suspect that it is going to be quite some time before I find a gift shop which sells a pink fur crucifix, or a purple suede Star of David. Then again, you never know. I’ll keep you posted.

Mark A. Pegrum, a lecturer at Queen Margaret University College in Edinburgh, Scotland, has taught in the areas of German and French language, culture and history, European Studies and English as a foreign language. He is the author of Challenging Modernity, a study of the relationship between Dadaism and postmodernism.

2. The Other Enlightenment Project ...Stephen Batchelor


3. Postmodernity

A postmodern world that takes for granted the plurality and ambiguity of perception, the fragmented and contingent nature of reality, the elusive, indeterminate nature of self, the arbitrariness, inauthenticity and anguish of human existence, would seem to fit Buddhism like a glove. Yet this is nothing new. Western advocates of Buddhism, from Schopenhauer onwards, have all tended to be impressed by the compatibility of its doctrines with their own way of seeing the world.10 Kantians saw the views of Kant in Buddhism, Logical Positivists those of Bertrand Russell, just as today Deconstructionists behold the unravellings of Jacques Derrida. Within the last hundred years the teachings of the Buddha have confirmed the views of theosophists, fascists, environmentalists and quantum physicists alike. Then is Buddhism just an exotic morass of incompatible ideas, a ‘Babylon of doctrines’ as the 16th century missionary Matteo Ricci suspected? Or is this another illustration of the Buddha’s parable of the blind men who variously interpret an elephant as a pillar, a wall, a rope or a tube depending on which bit of the animal’s anatomy they clutch? There may well be as many kinds of Buddhism as there are ways the Western mind has to apprehend it. In each case ‘Buddhism’ denotes something else. But what is it really? The answer: nothing you can put your finger on. To fix the elephant in either time or space is to kill her. The elephant is both empty and perplexing. She breathes and moves--in ways no one can foresee.

      This fluidity has enabled Buddhism throughout its history to cross cultural frontiers and adapt itself creatively to situations quite different from those in its lands of origin on the Indian sub-continent. (The most striking example being that of its movement nearly two thousand years ago to China.) This creative process requires Buddhism to imagine itself as something different. It entails adopting compatible elements from the new host culture while at the same time critiquing elements of that culture which are at odds with its own Buddhist values. So it is hardly surprising that Buddhists today would not instinctively home in on elements of postmodernity that resonate with their own understanding of the Dharma. The danger is that, for the sake of appearing ‘relevant,’ they sacrifice the equally vital need to retain a lucid, critical perspective.

     The element of postmodernity that potentially promises Buddhist voices access to contemporary culture is implicit in Jean-François Lyotard’s simplified but seminal definition of ‘postmodern’ as ‘incredulity toward grand narratives.’11 The grandest of all these grand narratives for Lyotard and others is the European Enlightenment Project itself: the certainty of human progress through reason and science, which began in the 18th century. As soon as conviction in this myth wavers, a host of other assumptions are thrown into question. Through focusing on change and uncertainty rather than assured continuity, through emphasizing contingency, ambivalence and plurality, postmodern thinkers have come to hear voices of the Other: those the Enlightenment Project has either suppressed, ignored, or disdained: women, citizens of the Third World, non-European systems of thought such as Buddhism.

     As a Buddhist I find myself reading erudite texts on themes such as the nature of the ‘self,’ which explore ideas quite familiar to me as a Buddhist yet fail to make even a passing reference to the fact that this kind of analysis and discourse has been pursued in Asia for more than two thousand years. I sense at these times what women must feel about texts that blithely assume a male perspective as normative. The habit of treating the ‘East’ as Other is a deeply engrained European trait that goes back at least as far as Euripedes and is ironically perpetuated even by postmodern writers. Yet there are signs of change. After the usual Eurocentric analysis, Galen Strawson concludes in a recent article, ‘The Sense of the Self:’ ‘Perhaps the best account of the existence of the self is one that may be given by certain Buddhists.’12 Note the hesitation: ‘Perhaps...,’ ‘...may be...,’ ‘...certain Buddhists...’ (not all of them of course).

     Whatever features of postmodernity may be apparent in Buddhism, it would be foolish to describe Buddhist thought as ‘postmodern’ -- for the simple reason that Buddhism has undergone no phase of modernity to be ‘post’ of. Buddhist cultures have evolved according to the grand narrative of their own Enlightenment Project. Consequently, two broad but opposing trends can be seen in the way Buddhism encounters contemporary Western culture.

     In recognizing, on the one hand, the breakdown of the grand narratives of the West, Buddhists might seek to replace them with their own grand narrative of enlightenment. This is explicit in the stated goals of at least two of the most successful Buddhist movements in Britain today: the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order (FWBO), who aim to create a ‘New Society’ founded on Buddhist principles, and Soka Gakkai International (SGI), who seek to realize ‘Kosen Rufu’ -- the worldwide spread of Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism.13 Although both organizations are contemporary reformed Buddhist movements, from a postmodern perspective they remain entranced by the legitimating myth of a grand narrative that promises universal emancipation. If a defining trait of our times is indeed widespread loss of credibility in such narratives and their inability any longer to compel consensus, then such ambitions may be doomed to frustration.

     Yet, on the other hand, if Buddhists find themselves in sympathy with postmodern incredulity towards grand narratives, then they might be compelled to imagine another kind of Buddhism altogether. They will try to rearticulate the guiding metaphors of Buddhist tradition in the light of postmodernity. An attitude of incredulity would itself tend to resonate more with the metaphor of wilderness than with that of path, with the possibilities of unbounded landscape as opposed to the secure confinement of a highway.

     The key notion in such an endeavour would be ‘emptiness.’ For here we have a notion that shares with postmodernism a deep suspicion of a single, non-fragmentary self, as well as any ‘transcendental signified’ such as God or Mind. It too celebrates the disappearance of the subject, the endlessly deferred play of language, the ironically ambiguous and contingent nature of things. Yet in other respects it parts company with the prevailing discourses of postmodernity. Meditation on emptiness is not a mere intellectual exercise, but a contemplative discipline rooted in an ethical commitment to non-violence. It is not just a description in unsentimental language of the way reality unfolds, it offers a therapeutic approach to the dilemma of human anguish.

     Proponents of the doctrine of emptiness, at least from the time of Nagarjuna, have been subjected to the same kind of criticism as postmodernists receive today. They too have stood accused of nihilism, relativism, and undermining the basis for morality and religious belief. And not only from non-Buddhists; the concept of emptiness is still criticized within the Buddhist tradition itself.14 The history of the idea of emptiness has been the history of the struggle to demonstrate that far from undermining an ethical and authentic way of life, such a life is actually realized through embracing the implications of emptiness.

     The emptiness of self, for instance, is not the denial of individual uniqueness, but the denial of any permanent, partless and transcendent basis for individuality. The anguish and uncertainty of human existence are only exacerbated by the pre-conceptual, spasm-like grip in which such assumptions of transcendence hold us. While seeming to offer security in the midst of an unpredictable and transient world, paradoxically this grip generates an anxious alienation from the processes of life itself. The aim of Buddhist meditations on change, uncertainty and emptiness are to help one understand and accept these dimensions of existence and thus gently lead to releasing the grip.

     By paying mindful attention to the sensory immediacy of experience, we realize how we are created, moulded, formed by a bewildering matrix of contingencies that continually arise and vanish. On reflection, we see how we are formed from the patterning of the DNA derived from our parents, the firing of a hundred billion neurons in our brains, the cultural and historical conditioning of the twentieth century, the education and upbringing given us, all the experiences we have ever had and choices we have ever made. These processes conspire to configure the unrepeatable trajectory that culminates in this present moment. What is here now is the unique but shifting impression left by all of this, which I call ‘me.’

     Moreover, this gradual dissolution of a transcendental basis for self nurtures an empathetic relationship with others. The grip of self not only leads to alienation but numbs one to the anguish of others. Heartfelt appreciation of our own contingency enables us to recognize our inter-relatedness with other equally contingent forms of life. We find that we are not isolated units but participants in the creation of an ongoing, shared reality.

A postmodern perspective would question the mythic status of Buddhism and Agnosticism. In letting go of ‘Buddhism’ as a grand, totalizing narrative that explains everything, we are freed to embark on the unfolding of our own individuation in the context of specific local and global communities. We may find in this process that we too are narratives. Having let go of the notion of a transcendental self, we realize we are nothing but the stories we keep telling ourselves in our own minds and relating to others. We find ourselves participating in a complex web of narratives: each telling its own unique storywhile inextricably interwoven with the tales of others. Instead of erecting totalitarian, hierarchic institutions to set our grand narratives in brick and stone, we look to imaginative, democratic communities in which to realize our own petits recits: small narratives.

      Such a view is inevitably pluralistic. Instead of seeing itself in opposition to other grand narratives that seem to contradict or threaten it, Buddhism remembers how in its vital periods it has emerged out of its interactions with religions, philosophies, and cultures other than its own. This reminds one of the traditional Hua-yen image of the Jewelled Net of Indra: that vast cosmic web at the interstices of which is a jewel that reflects every other jewel. Today this image suggests the biosphere itself: that vast interdependent web of living systems that sustain each other in a miraculous whole. Which brings us back to the metaphor of wilderness as an image of a postmodern, postpath practice of Buddhism.



10. See Andrew P. Tuck. Comparative Philosophy and the Philosophy of Scholarship: On the Western Interpretation of Nagarjuna. New York/Oxford: OUP, 1990.

11. Jean-François Lyotard. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Tr. Geoff Bennington and Brian Massumi. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1986, p.xxiv. I have translated Lyotard’s grands récits as ‘grand narratives’ rather than ‘metanarratives’ as found in this English translation.

12. Galen Strawson. ‘The Sense of Self.’ London Review of Books, 18 April 1996, pp. 21-2.

13. For further information on these organizations, see Stephen Batchelor. The Awakening of the West: The Encounter of Buddhism and Western Culture. London: Thorsons, 1994.

14. See, for example, S.K. Hookham. The Buddha Within: Tathagatagarbha Doctrine According to the Shentong Interpretation of the Ratnagotravibhaga. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991.

3. A role of Buddhism in Postmodern Psychotherapy ...from MindIs.com


Buddhism liberates, offers a glimpse into the absolute, a sense of transcendence in the realization of fundamental emptiness, realization of the emptiness of the present moment, the emptiness of existence and mind, psychotherapy gives one skills to unlock the mind, to diagnose the symptoms, unearth their causes and to heal them.

Buddhism’s “suffering” (duhkha) manifests itself as psychological, or psychiatric “dis-ease”, or symptoms, symptoms which are individual, private, mine, yours, even if the same ones in many, if not all of us.

Life is full of suffering because of a fundamental lack, not only a perception of a lack, but the actual lack of our absence

If the absence is lacking, then there is suffering. Of course there are moments of great joy, love, ecstasy, in fact there is the entire spectrum of human emotions arising from just being alive and human, but the lack of your absence – which is nothing but your life – is the source of your suffering. Our very existence originates from the lack of absence, so there is that actual experience of not being absent, of the lack, of not not-being there, and that lack, life itself, is causing suffering.

That fundamental suffering manifests itself as psychiatric and psychological symptoms so well described in the DSM system of psychopathology. Depression, suicide, panic attacks, anxiety, perversions, addictions, violence, psychosis, hundreds of other. They are real, they exist, we all do suffer in some way. And that suffering and symptoms is where Buddhism and psychotherapy meet. They both address the same aspect of life and being. One might say, that therapy then moves on to devise a system of healing, systems of alleviating of the suffering, of reducing, decreasing, eliminating or controlling the symptoms. Hundreds of systems have evolved to do just that – the major ones being psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic/psychodynamic therapy, cognitive behavior therapy, and psychopharmacology.

Buddhism and postmodern psychotherapy are similar to the extent they both attempt to understand the Mind and find a way to alleviate human suffering.

In Buddhism, the essence of the Mind (sunyata) and the ubiquity of suffering (duhkha) are, arguably, best described by the Mahayana doctrines of Emptiness and Interdependent Origination and by the Four Noble Truths, while the Eightfold Path (sila, samadhi, prajna) charts the general path towards personal liberation (Nirvana, Enlightenment).

Correspondingly, postmodern psychotherapy combines cognitive psychology and psychoanalytic theory to describe how minds work and borrows from the DSM system of classification of psychiatric symptoms to catalogue diverse manifestations of individual suffering (anxiety, depression, psychosis, personality disorders, etc.)

Duhkha, the first of the Four Noble Truths and the Buddhist term for any form of dis-ease, pain and suffering corresponds to the inherent conflictedness of our lives and the inescapable presence of psychological symptoms addressed in any psychotherapy.

To understand the potential role of Buddhism in postmodern psychotherapy on has to understand why people suffer.

And we do not mean the physical pain, although, it may actually be involved, we really mean the psychological pain, despair, anguish, anxiety, depression, psychosis, alienation, self-destructive behavior, aggression, suicide, etc. There are many ways in which people suffer, and the pain takes on infinite and infinitely subtle manifestations so well depicted in art and so often seen in clinical practice.  But is suffering limited to people only? Everybody would agree that all animals experience physical pain, but how about the “mental” pain –depression, loss, anxiety? And what about other forms of life? Is suffering contingent on having a mind? Consciousness? Self? Do plants and trees suffer? And how about inanimate object? Can we imagine a river or a mountain suffering? Do industrial or human waste dumped into delicately balanced ecosystems of our land creates a form of suffering? If it destroys life and living organisms, pollutes water and soil, poisons and sickens people who live there – does it create some sort of universal suffering?

What are the boundaries of suffering – when her child is in pain, the mother suffers, somehow child’s and mother’s pain are connected or maybe even really just being one, even if we can’t see it as long as we function within the more narrow sense of our individuality restricted to inside of our skin? Do we suffer when others suffers? And what empathy really is? Is it resonating with the other or is it experiencing the same state, emotional, physical or psychological?

And what about a farmer, a rancher who can’t sleep at night when his land or his cattle is destroyed by a natural or man made disaster? Individual pain is never just individual, it transcends, it permeates all those who are sensitive enough to experience it.

Buddhism asserts that all duhkha results from some form of desire, including the desire for existence and the desire for non-existence. Similarily, postmodern theory places psychological symptoms in the realm of Desire and Lack (wish, instinct, drive, motive, need, deficit, deprivation, etc.), fundamental precursors of any individual self, identity and behavior.

Buddhism does not elaborate on the “how” of how symptoms develop, why depression and not anxiety, why obsessive rituals and not panic attacks. In Buddhism, all suffering is one suffering, the suffering of the Universe. And the Buddhist Eightfold Path is presented as a way out. Right understanding, right speech, right action, right life - what on the surface of it appears a uniform prescription for all, is, in its actual implementation, completely individualized. It is always, ultimately, my right speech, my right understanding, my action, my suffering, my life, and this is where psychotherapy and Buddhism overlap. It is a person attempting to change him/herself…and anything that pertains to changing mind, speech or behavior is, by definition, a realm of psychology. The same thing looked at from two different perspectives. 

Not only two perspectives but two different methods. And it is  the methods where Buddhism and psychotherapy begin to diverge. Psychotherapy is codified in the psychoanalytic and the cognitive paradigms, psychopharmacology, inpatient crisis interventions, the entire “mental health” industry as we know it. Buddhism is different, with its meditation at the core, teacher / student matrix of interactions, its monasticism, Sangha, precepts, vows, mind-to-mind-transmission, Buddhism approaches a person completely differently.

And there is the outcome, the end, or is there? What is the prescriptive outcome of Buddhist practice? The art of happiness? Compassion? Boddhisatva’s realized and actualized enlightenment? And what is the outcome of psychotherapy? At bare minimum, alleviation of symptoms, a lack of diagnosable mental disorder. Happiness? Health? Adjustment? Insight? Freud’s “ability to play, work and love”?

It is easy to see that there are similarities and differences here. Capacity for happiness and insight overlap for Buddhism and psychotherapy, enlightenment is clearly not even addressed in therapy, usually relegated, and rightly so, to the realm of religion. But what is “enlightenment” in Buddhism? Maybe it exists in psychology under different names? Mystical experience, peak experience? “Flow” in the “zone”? From James and Maslow to contemporary post- modernists, there has always been a great interest in the transcendental in psychology. Freud and Jung grappled with it. Is compassion similar to empathy? Altruism? What is health, happiness, compassion?

This area needs more clarification of those basic terms to sort through it, but just looking at it, it appears that even in the outcome, there are great similarities, or at least similar concepts which may, or may not, actually denote similar realities.

So, in summary, it looks that in Buddhism and psychotherapy the nature of  “the problem” is similar – suffering manifesting itself in psychological and psychiatric symptoms. The solutions are very different – psychotherapy vs. Buddhist practice; the outcomes may actually be more similar than not…when the terminology and concepts are clarified.  

And, fundamentally, there is only one soul, one mind, to treat and to save. Some say that we do not need to divide it into different conceptual fields of practice and treatment. There is only one person in front of a therapist or a Buddhist teacher. A person who seems to need some sort of help or liberation. So when we sit in front of each other, it is yet another Mysterium of a healing dialogue, because, somehow, words heal your suffering and my alienation from you. And, as we talk, as you reveal yourself even more to me, I don’t know if I am being Buddhist or just therapeutic. Actually, I forget myself in your story. What is psychotherapy anyway? Somehow people have realized that speaking heals, brings things out, to focus, focus of the mind, two minds. You and me, leaning over your illness, your pain, touching it with words, touching it with attention, feelings and our imagination, ourselves touched, as we discover the new and the old buried under the skin of our minds.

Your words flow, language flows, and we change the direction, telling, retelling, listening, hearing, till the pain dissolves. Even if life does not have a rewind button, we can change the past in the present of our dialogue. Living without a possibility of return is living in the Real, but there can also be the Imaginary transformed by the Symbolic…..

And there is the lack, the lack of absence, the lack of emptiness, your life, and there is the emptiness of the lack….a possibility for healing and liberation.

4. Maitreya Buddha - the future of Buddhism in the West (...Waiting for American Dogen ) ...from MindIs.com


Buddha usually appear as “this very moment”, however perceived or defined. Being always “just that…..” Buddhas may or may not be perceived as Buddhas by others, nevertheless, they always continue being Buddhas just as they are. However, since the “as they are” is inherently empty and not any fixed entity, Buddhas appear as simply “this” […….] or “that” [……..], as me and you, as “this very moment” and as the entire Universe.

They “appear” only when Mind appears (…) divided into its object / subject modes of Being.

Whenever a Buddha realizes that he or she is Buddha as a human being, the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha rejoice, leap forward, and “Buddhism” takes yet another turn

The last 2,600 years of Buddhism have been marked by such occasional appearance of realized Buddhas, of spiritual guides, whose insights, understanding or manifestation of the Dharma not only subsumed and included all prior teaching traditions but also reformulated them into a new philosophical turn, new school or spiritual paradigm.

Today, two centuries after Buddhism was introduced to the West, many practitioners in this country wonder how long will it take for another Buddha, another uniquely enlightened mind, another Nagarjuna, Asanga, Milarepa, Hui-Neng, Hakuin or Dogen to appear in American Buddhism?

Alas for all of us, as the timeline in the box below suggests, it may to take quite a long time again.

In the past, it was always at least 600 years after Buddhism was first transplanted to a new culture or country before a truly original teacher / reformer would appear – suggesting, if one can extrapolate from history – that it may take another 450 years for one to emerge here, in the West.

*In its birthplace, India, almost an entire millennium passed, before early Buddhism, proselytized by Siddharta Gautama around 500 B.C., spread throughout Southeast Asia and Tibet and matured into its philosophical pinnacle manifested by Madhyamika (Nagarjuna  200 – 300 AD), and Yogacara (Asanga and Vasubandhu  300 – 400 AD).

*In China, over 500 years passed since the time Buddhism was first introduced (ca. 100 B.C.  – 100 A.D.) to the arrival of Boddhidarma ( 500 A.D), the legendary Indian monk who became the First Patriarch of Chan (Zen).

*It took another 150 years and five more generations of teachers after Boddhidarma, before Hui Neng (638 – 674), the revered Sixth Patriarch appeared, and additional 200 years for Lin-chi (Rinzai) (d. 867) and Ts’ao-tung (Soto) ( 830) schools of Chan (Zen) to emerge.

*Over 1,000 years passed in China, since Buddhism was first introduced, to the time when the first two major Zen koan collections – “Blue Cliff Record” (1125 A.D.) and “The Gateless Gate” (ca 1228 A.D.) were compiled.

*Similarly, even if Buddhism arrived to Japan as early as 550 A.D., it took more than 250 years for it to fully settle in Kyoto during the Heian Period ( 800) and another 400 years to culminate in the Kamakura Period (1185  -  1333 A.D.).

*Again, Buddhism was widely present in Japan for at least 650 years before the spiritual and poetic genius of Dogen and his mystical masterpiece Shobogenzo (1200 – 1253) appeared and established Soto Zen’s Ehei-ji temple as a major presence in the Japanese Mahayana Buddhism.

*After Dogen, it was another 400 years more till the time when Hakuin (1686 – 1769) reformed Rinzai Zen and its use of koans at the Ryutaku-ji temple in Japan where it still continues today.

*Buddhism was originally introduced to the West, about 1800, and it still seems to be in its infancy today.

*Several generations of Asian pioneer teachers struggled with cultural and language barriers for several decades, as they attempted to bring authentic practice to the US and Europe.

*First legitimate non-Asian Buddhist teachers began to emerge in the second half of the last century (ca 1950 –2000) and a transition to the second and third generations of teachers is currently under way in all major Buddhist traditions, nationwide.

More time is needed for Buddhism to take root on the American soil, more time to assimilate with the culture at large and to mature enough for its new, truly Western, form to eventually emerge.

Even more time is probably needed for an American teacher, another Nagarjuna, Asanga, Milarepa, Hui-Neng, Hakuin or Dogen to appear in the U.S., a teacher who will not only conclude the transmission of Dharma to this new land but who will also legitimize American Buddhism as a new and fully autonomous tradition.

And when it finally arrives, what is the American Buddhism likely to be, 400 - 500 years from now?

How is that future American Maitreya Buddha, likely to lead, galvanize and propel American Buddhism into its next Millennium?

Historically, Buddhism, born out of Hinduism and Yoga traditions in ancient India, has always tended to absorb native spiritual tradition and culture of the country to which it arrived. As it moved East throughout Asia, it merged with Confucianism and Taoism in China, assimilated shamanism in Tibet and adapted to the Shinto Samurai culture in Japan.

Similarly, the future of American Buddhism is likely to be shaped by the entire Western / American culture and its future evolution in the time to come. 

One can anticipate that, by the year 2,500, American Buddhism in will have assimilated and merged  with the following “Western” influences:

*Democracy – contrary to more autocratic, male dominated Asian model, American Buddhists will embrace more democratic, egalitarian / libertarian approach, with man and women practicing together in centers governed by elective process where the role of a teacher is separate from the center’s administrator. A full spectrum of training models will develop, from more traditional monastic institutions to lay centers which are likely to grow in popularity. The Western appreciation of individuality, democracy and transparency will result in more horizontal, egalitarian approach to the interpretation of the Dharma, with multiple, loosely related “lineages” and a marketplace of individual preachers. Paradoxically, this model is likely to resemble the origins of Buddhism in 600 B.C. India where wondering “seekers” / “monks” gathered only during rain seasons to study and practice in one place and only to resume their individual/ solitary search afterwards. An individual “hermit” / Boddhisatva / preacher model is likely to emerge, in addition to more organized Buddhism-as-religion. 

*Science– science in general, and quantum physics and Unified Theory (when available) will replace Mahayana Buddhism as the new paradigm for the understanding of the Universe, Mind and Emptiness. American Buddhism will not only embrace science as the preferred language of the Dharma but a new, Scientific Buddhism will emerge as the dominant “school” of Buddhism not only in the West but worldwide. 

*Psychology – both Buddhism and psychology endeavor to alleviate suffering and to grasp the nature of Mind. Psychology without the Mysterium of spirituality and mysticism is incomplete, Buddhism without postmodern psychology is naïve. Buddhism will eventually adopt the language of cognitive neuroscience and psychology to redefine itself within the Western culture. Insights of psychology, psychiatry, brain science and psychotherapy will not only inform any serious spiritual training and practice in the future but will also permeate the “Western” interpretation of the Madhyamika / Yogacara Dharma. Buddhist teachers of the future are likely to undergo formal training in at least one of the above disciplines to match ever evolving psychological-mindedness of their Western practitioners. Seated meditation and mindfulness will continue as the key elements distinguishing Buddhists practice from other traditions.

*Language – translating Buddhism into the Western context will impose the English language and its vocabulary on the Dharma. A complete translation of most of Sanscrit, Chinese, Tibetan and Japanese texts should be completed within the next 100 years and most of the Buddhist canon will be available to Western readers in English. Terminology and understanding of particular terms is likely to evolve to adjust to the usage within the Western culture. New, original, modern  “sutras”, or Dharma texts, will appear and gradually replace the old ones. Future, American, Nagarjuna, Asanga, Milarepa, Hui-Neng, Hakuin and Dogen will “re-write” the old texts and create a uniquely English-language “school” of Buddhism. 

*Postmodern / postindustrial culture – Buddhism preceded some ideas typically associated with deconstruction and postmodernism for over 2,600 years. The lack (emptiness) of the subject and form, decentralization / multiplicity (Absolute / Relative) of signification and truth, quantum physics and interdependent origination – all point to inescapable parallels between Buddhism and the postmodern. The future Buddhism will continue to evolve within the postmodern Western culture and will become increasingly permeated by its ideas and values. Environmentalism and “engaged” Buddhism will play a significant role in defining how Buddhists will function in the future global / local marketplace.

*Technology –Buddhism will evolve in the Millennium dominated by science and its applications - technology. In a few decades we will be able to effectively manipulate our genetic codes, and hence the life itself, will learn how to control and change, at will, our states of mind through new advances in molecular neuropsychopharmacology, and will be able to immerse ourselves in computerized virtual realities of our choice, leaving more mundane chores to increasingly more efficacious and omnipresent artificial intelligence tools and robotic appliances. Instantaneous visual-audio global access to any information, person or place anywhere on Earth, via the next generations of the Internet, will be taken for granted. Biological computers and ultramicrochip-enhanced biological implants will merge technology with brain functions, altering cognition, consciousness and the sense of individual identity. The new American “Scientific Buddhism” will emerge  to embrace technology as its new “Great Vehicle” to ferry all sentient beings to the other shore of Existence.

*Judeo-Christian tradition – Buddhism will assimilate many of the contemporary Judeo-Christian forms of monastic and lay practice, ranging from the Catholic monastery / church / priest model to the Episcopalian / Protestant / Baptist minister / preacher / congregation formats of practice. Buddhism will continue to struggle with the concept of Judeo-Christian monotheistic God.  Interfaith dialogue(s) will emerge to clarify basic ideas and to enhance mutual understanding. The concepts of God and Buddha-Mind, along with neuroscience, will take the center stage in the multidisciplinary debate on the nature of the mind and spiritual and religious life.

*Global marketplace – American Buddhism will embrace wholesome, not-for-profit entrepreneurial self-sufficiency, simplicity and non-attachment rather than poverty and asceticism. Although Buddhism originally developed within tribal / feudal cultures of ancient India, China and Japan, we are now witnessing an increasing emphasis on economic self-reliance rather than on alms-gathering or feudal / government donations and support. Sophisticated fund raising, students / members fees and small business ventures are likely to become dominant sources of income for Buddhist centers in the future. Separation of the spiritual teaching from the economics, similar to that of church / state in the society at large, will have to be strictly observed to prevent perception of exploitation. The issues of property ownership or de facto property control by teachers, non-attachment vs poverty vs asceticism will have to be addressed and resolved as a Dharma question and within the American Sangha to assure integrity, purity and depth of future practice.

The future is always different from our speculations about it. However, we know that Buddhism will have to change in its encounter with the West. The old Theravada / Mahayana tradition will be, eventually, replaced by a new "school" or paradigm.

Since science and technology, along with democracy and global marketplace, are the most dominant forces shaping the world today, the postmodern science will become the next discourse of Buddhism, not only in the West but worldwide.

That fully autonomous American / Western Scientific Buddhism will need a teacher, who like others did before, will propel it into the next Millennia. That person, whoever he/she will be, will find a way to translate the Dharma into a new language of science, psychology, cognitive neuroscience and postmodern / postindustrial culture.

To save all sentient beings, we all need to do our best to make it happen as soon as possible.

Buddha usually appear as “this very moment”, however perceived or defined. Being always “just that…..” Buddhas may or may not be perceived as Buddhas by others, nevertheless, they always continue being Buddhas just as they are. However, since the “as they are” is inherently empty and not any fixed entity, Buddhas appear as simply “this” […….] or “that” [……..], as me and you, as “this very moment” and as the entire Universe. 

They “appear” only when Mind appears (…) divided into its object / subject modes of Being. 

Whenever a Buddha realizes that he or she is Buddha as a human being, the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha rejoice, leap forward, and “Buddhism” takes yet another turn

5. www.MindIs.com/Dharma


A list of resources for anyone studying the Buddha Dharma.

6. The Great Awakening: A Buddhist Social Theory ...by David R. Loy


Book Description

The most essential insight that Buddhism offers is that all our individual suffering arises from three and only three sources: greed, ill-will, and delusion. In The Great Awakening, scholar and Zen teacher David Loy examines how these three qualities, embodied in society’s institutions, lie at the root of all social maladies as well. The teachings of Buddhism present a way that the individual can counteract these destructive influences to alleviate personal sufffering, and in the The Great Awakening Loy boldly examines how these teachings can be applied to institutions and even whole cultures for the alleviation of suffering on a collective level.

This book will help both Buddhists and non-Buddhists to realize the social importance of Buddhist teachings, while providing a theoretical framework for socially engaged members of society to apply their spiritual principles to collective social issues. The Great Awakening shows how Buddhism can help our postmodern world develop liberative possibilities otherwise obscured by the anti-religious bias of so much contemporary social theory.

Amazon.com-Reviewer: A reader from Portand, Maine ...This book integrates buddhism and western social concerns, forging an important link that I've found missing in buddhist oriented texts. Enjoyable reading, timely politically, and IMPORTANT!


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