Western Dharma Today

October 4, 2010

Buddhism has been consistently absorbing elements of the culture of the countries in which it is practised. Different local customs are included also, and may influence the form of rituals and ceremonies. There is a general distinction between Buddhism brought to the West by Asian immigrants, which may be Mahayana or a traditional East Asian mix, and Buddhism as practised by converts, which is often Zen, Pure Land, Indian Vipassana or Tibetan Buddhism. Some Western Buddhists are actually non-denominational and accept teachings from a variety of different sects, which is far less frequent in Asia.

Today, Buddhism is practised by increasing numbers of people in the Americas, Europe and Oceania. Buddhism has become the fastest growing religion in Australia and some other Western nations. The largest Buddhist temple in the Southern Hemisphere is the Nan Tien Temple (translated as “Southern Paradise Temple”), situated at Wollongong, Australia, while the largest Buddhist temple in the Western Hemisphere is the Hsi Lai Temple (translated as “Coming West Temple”), in California, USA. Both are operated by the Fo Guang Shan Order, founded in Taiwan, and around 2003 the Grand Master, Venerable Hsing Yun, asked for Nan Tien Temple and Buddhist practice there to be operated by native Australians citizens within about thirty years.

A feature of Buddhism in the West today is the emergence of other groups which attempt at adapting Buddhist practice to daily lives of their members. For example, lama Chögyam Trungpa, the founder of the Shambhala meditation movement, claimed in his teachings that his intention was to strip the ethnic baggage away from traditional methods of working with the mind and to deliver the essence of those teachings to his western students. Chögyam Trungpa also founded Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado in 1974. Trungpa’s movement has also found particular success in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia, Shambhala International being based out of Halifax.

Another example of schools evolving new idioms for the transmission of the dharma are the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order (FWBO), founded by Sangharakshita in 1967, and recently renamed Triratna Buddhist Community. Also the Diamond Way Organisation, founded by Ole Nydahl, with more than 600 buddhist centers across the world.

One personality which emerged in the field of meditation and health-care, adapting Buddhist principles to these fields, is Jon Kabat-Zinn. Founder and former executive director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society, and also of the Stress Reduction Clinic, where mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) originated. His research since 1979 has focused on mind/body interactions for healing and on the clinical applications and cost-effectiveness of mindfulness meditation training for people with chronic pain and stress-related disorders, including a work-site study of the effects of MBSR on the brain and how it processes emotions, particularly under stress, and on the immune system (in collaboration with Dr. Richard Davidson). He has trained groups from a wide variety of professions in mindfulness. He is the author and co-author of many books about mindful living, including Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life, Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness, and most recently, Arriving At Your Own Door: 108 Lessons in Mindfulness, and with Williams, Teasdale, and Segal, The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness. As said, his life work has been largely dedicated to bringing mindfulness into the mainstream of medicine and society. Kabat-Zinn is the author or co-author of scientific papers on mindfulness and its clinical applications. He has written two bestselling books: Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness (Delta, 1991), and Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life (Hyperion, 1994). He co-authored with Myla Kabat-Zinn Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting, (Hyperion, 1997).

Roshi Bernie Glassman and his wife Sandra Jishu Holmes brought Zen wisdom to heal the wounds of conflicts around the World, with the Zen Peace Makers. Also known as Zen Peacemakers Circle or simply Zen Peacemakers is an organization of socially-engaged Buddhists. Zen Peacemakers is a school within the White Plum Asanga lineage of Taizan Maezumi. The order is based on three principles: plunging into the unknown, bearing witness to the pain and joy of the world and a commitment to heal oneself and the world.” Its projects have included a Paris soup kitchen for immigrants and non-violence efforts in Palestine, with joint Israeli-Palestinian peaceful coexistence projects in Israel. Zen Peacemakers in Poland established ‘Nonviolent Communications Training and Practice’ in the national public school system and opened an AIDS hospice. The Auschwitz project brought together families of the Holocaust survivors and the descendants of those who ran the camps to ‘”bear witness to the horrors of war” during retreats at the site of the concentration camp in Poland. In the United States, Zen Peacemakers campaigns for prison reform, provided hospice care and worked with the poor in both inner city and rural areas. Notable Zen Peacemakers include: Ellen Burstyn, Enkyo Pat O’Hara, Joan Halifax, Robert Kennedy, Claude Anshin Thomas

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