Buddhism is yet again in the spotlight in main stream Western medias, I just saw a couple of weeks ago an ABC story on Spirit Rock and interview with Joseph Goldstein. I was also very surprised by the treatment that it received, the dharma was presented in a non-judgmental and serious manner. I guess this is all thanks to the book and now movie Eat Pray Love, Julia Roberts has brought meditation back in the public arena, and it is not just about hippies in California anymore. It sometimes takes phenomenons like this to make people consider the validity of certain practices. If Buddhism is to survive and flourish here in the west, I must admit that there is a need for us to Westernize the teachings, we must create the New American Buddhism like my teacher Noah Levine mentions. If is wasn’t for his presentation of the teachings I might now of taken up the practice, he spoke to me in terms that I could relate to and helped me make sense of it all. As practitioners in the West we must take it upon ourselves to make the teachings accessible to the people around us, to use a language and situations that everyone can relate to, these teachings are meant to be used in everyday situations thus they have to be put in the right context. How are we to establish the dharma in the West? This is a big question, but it is worth exploring. Helen Tworkov stated in a recent article in Tricyle magazine that:
“I’ll make it simple: One Western person must attain full enlightenment in the same way as Marpa, Milarepa, or Padmasambhava. If one Westerner—man or woman, doesn’t matter—attains that level of realization, then pure dharma will be established in Western culture, Western language, and environment, and so forth. Until that time, dharma can be taught in the West, which is already happening; it can be practiced in the West, which is already happening; and it can be recited in Western languages. But it’s not yet one hundred percent complete.”
It took this type of realization for the dharma to become established in Tibet and then flourish, with the presence of great mahasiddhas like Guru Rinpoche, Marpa, and Milarepa which began to establish the dharma in a way that it will always remain there. After the appearance of these enlightened beings the dharma flourished within its own culture and language and has lasted to this day. This unbroken living lineage and blessing explains how even an unenlightened person like myself can practice the enlightened dharma. In India, Buddhism took root with the appearance of Shakyamuni Buddha and the Indian mahasiddhas. In both Tibet and India, dharma was established through the appearance of enlightened beings, and it will take root in the West the same way. Until we have this lineage here in the West, Tibetan dharma will for Westerners always be related to Tibetan culture and language, and Tibetan ways and mentality.
I do not want to take away from this idea and its teachings, they are still extremely valuable and will always remain like this. And I don’t know if I completely agree with what she has to say about the need for an enlightened being, the dharma IS established in the West, it is just really young. If we really think about it, we are already in the second generation of Buddhist practitioners in the West and it is still growing and spreading. I once heard of the analogy of a tree to explain Western dharma versus the more established traditions like Tibet and India. Western dharma is like a two foot tree compared to the magnificent old growth trees (India, Tibet, etc), but it is still a tree and it is not less of a tree.
Jeff Watt believes that what the West needs to help establish the dharma in the West is the third jewel, “sangha”. Many of us when we think if the sangha we think of the community of practitioners, but in reality the term means more the community of monastics. What Buddhism in the West really needs is a strong and dedicated monastic community. Instead of saying that the dharma can only become truly established by the attainment of just one Mahasiddha, Watt believes that the monastic commitment of many is what will strengthen and fortify Western Dharma. I tend to agree with this, it is important that we develop a tradition in the West that goes with our values and beliefs if we want it to really grow. I find that this is what is really important in this debate, the package can change to accommodate the most people possible, but the teachings always remain the same.
I am someone who has taken up the Dharma Punx nation as my sangha, and it has helped me develop a practice that is dedicated and has made me also want to share the teachings with my peers. The DIY aspect is something that has always spoken to me, and I find that it makes it much more accessible to others, to strip everything down to just the teachings and the sense of community is what can help spread the dharma in the West. I guess, all that matters is that we follow the teachings and apply them to our lives the way that we see fit, whatever that may be. I find that the dharma is becoming more and more established in the West and it will continue to grow if everyone applies it to their lives in a way that is true to them. Look around for a sitting group that speaks to you and don’t worry about the rest, the sangha and the dharma has many faces and one will speak to you, and at the end of the day that is all that really counts.