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Buddhism in the West Part 2
By Jagannatha Prakasa (© 1987; last updated March 24, 2017)

Return to part one of Buddhism in the West

Our religious and mythological beliefs need no longer be divisive and destabilizing agents. Surely, spiritual practice can bring people together instead! With the advent of modern archeology, psychology, comparative religious practice and the cognitive sciences, we now the ability to establish a paradigm that unifies the world in a rational spiritual symbioses (MoG 4,5). In order to accomplish this however, we must continue to question and to hold on to that which is good and true. Many feel that this is the offering of the Buddha dharma to the West. It offers an intelligent system of philosophy that is harmonious with the concepts espoused by the emerging paradigm and the personal realizations of millions of people (ED 15).

The term new paradigm is normally used by vanguard sociologists and philosophers of science to refer to the new holographic or systems' theories. It provides a new set of beliefs by which researchers can explain and understand their fields of inquiry (TP 77). According to Jeremy Hayward, this new paradigm tends to be quite limited in its application. It fails to include the role and importance of belief contexts sufficiently. Secular Humanist rejections of religious and spiritual beliefs are thwarting the developing new paradigm by insisting on Humanist dogmas. If modern research is to go beyond the limitations of the old paradigm, it must incorporate an entirely new set of beliefs, not just modify old ones. Furthermore, he explains, the term new paradigm is impersonal, and should therefore be discarded. What is needed, he argues, is a new belief context by which we can live our lives and with meaningful ways, not just adopt new intellectual theories (SW 7,8). In other words, we need to replace the gods of the old Secular Humanist paradigm in meaningful ways by including spirituality and transcendence (PN 448).

The inclusion of Buddhist understandings into the western framework will help accomplish this, however it will also require a total overhauling of scientific terminology, methodology and the basic premises upon which we view so-called reality (BRF ii). It is not that we must conform to other, more Buddhist cultural models, but that we create an entirely new belief context, one extensive enough to contain the new system of thought (WBT 5). What we are witnessing is nothing less than a scientific/philosophic revolution in the making. In the face of the global Islamic revival, some in the West are returning to more conservative Christian beliefs. Most however are finding themselves without faith in anything. The ongoing decline of American greatness demonstrates the result this lost of faith. The more enlightened understandings that had been developing seems to have largely stalled for now.

At the heart of this cultural revolution is the question, What is reality? Our experience tells us that physical material existence, nature, is real. If I kick a rock, it hurts; my toe is real, the rock is real and the pain is real. This view has (mainly) been supported by western science since its inception. Ultimate reality, we were told, consists of those lifeless particles that compose the material universe. There is only matter, no spirit, no mind, and no transcendent existence. How do we know this? We are told that if science can't confirm a thing it obviously does not exist (SW 13,14). But this view is utterly unacceptable to those who have tasted the spiritual waters. Those seeking to transcend the material conceptions of reality and experience transcendent ecstasy, or, in more Buddhist terminology, find release from suffering, find the old scientific paradigm as limited and as unacceptable as "the Old Rugged Cross" dogmas. They insist that the Big Bang Theory, for instance, even if true, has no essential meaning. The same is true of evolutionary theory. As Tripitaka Master Hsuan Hua has explained, all such theories are groundless and may be likened to science fiction. Unless theories have some universally acceptable evidence, which these do not ( 12 ), and aid in the awakening of one's Buddha nature, there is no relevancy to them (A 111- 156; comp. PN 522). Knowledge of such theories is merely extra baggage that should be discarded (L 57).

Stark materialism has never been sufficient to satisfy our inner needs. I submit it never will be. Despite this, western society, with few exceptions, still accepts the antiquated scientific notion that there exists an objective, physical reality only knowable by spiritual methodologies. Western societies have transformed the scientific community into an infallible priesthood. Conversely, we are now beginning to understand that there is no Reality, no Universe existing independent of our own experiences and perceptions (BS 181). Gone (or going) are the days when we naively believed in an objective reality that, step by step, science would eventually come to understand and master (SW 31). Our gullible faith in material science, along with our submissive credence in the Church, is finally ending. This realization is central to the emerging new paradigm and to the Buddha dharma. The scientists, philosophers and religionists who are embracing this aspect of the new paradigm are in the forefront of this revolutionary movement.

With the dawning of the new era, something more is taking place than simply the adoption of new theories. Despite the current turn to conservatism and fundamentalism, there seems to be a radical transformation in consciousness underway such as has not been seen for millennia (TP 33). Today any viable system of knowledge, whether science, religion, philosophy, or what have you, must have, at its basis, an understanding of the relative nature of human perception and our role as co-creators of reality (SW 33). Buddhism, like the new paradigm, speaks of this non-dual nature of existence, which is to say, the utter inter-connectedness of all phenomena (SFT 38). Hence, in many ways, Buddhism is now coming into its own in the Western world.

As the Buddha explained to his disciple Ananda, to one who has a body, to one who believes himself to be a separate entity, the world appears divided. Such a person looks about and sees countless forms. In reality however, nothing exists except the Void or Cause-Ground. Once, through the process of awakening, one has completely removed the mud of dualism from the non-dual water, one attains the level of Eternal Severance of Fundamental Ignorance. To such a person, all duality ceases to exist (SS 4.143-149, 154). The new sciences, for their part, are saying much the same. Leaders in the field tend to agree with Baruch Spinoza who explained that existence is a type of mystical monism. To this view, they add that with inspiration from Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, where this Unity appears diverse, there are simply monads or organisms of an essentially psychic nature that mirror one another. In reality, there is no interaction between mind and body, both act in pre-established harmony (TP 167). This harmony of course is primal unity. As stated above, the Big Bang Theory, even if correct, is irrelevant unless it has some type of awakening effect on us. The Buddha dharma offers the missing relevance to scientific theories and gives them import.

When we seek to understand anything it should be realized that our views are limited. Our "facts" are based on the personal perceptions of an observer (BS 236,237; SW 113). This is an essential flaw of scientific theory as well. We tend to find the answers we expect (BS 216). It is not that scientists and others are somehow unwilling to examine facts objectively. The problem is, as recent neurophysiologic studies have repeatedly shown, that even before consciousness is established, our sensory perception is modified by a complex series of experiences, expectations and purposes. Perception takes place in stages, yet requires only a finite time to occur. The stages our acquisition of understanding passes through, includes the initial perception with some type of conceptual content; an emotional response to that content; a verbal meaning analysis, and then finally what is commonly called consciousness (SW 163). Before we are even aware of our perception therefore, we have already undergone a thorough analysis and established the way in which we will respond (BS 187,188).

The faint smell of perfume, for instance, may immediately evoke joy, sorrow, pleasure or pain through our associations with it (TP 295). This establishes a significant aspect of how we view the world as well as the nature of our core beliefs. Buddhism teaches how to understand and even bypass these imprinted reactions. For one who can accomplish this, the world is a very different place. This is the essential strength of the Buddha dharma.

Traditional western science has become so theory-laden by its own belief systems that it is highly unlikely to develop anything that violates its basic assumptions and established scientific theory. The notion of pure, unbiased observation, which western science requires, is therefore unattainable by the methodologies of the old paradigm (SW 35,36). With an understanding of the non-dual nature of existence offered by the Buddha dharma however, one is empowered to investigate those areas free from dualistic preconceptions through the primordial intelligence or "Buddha nature" (SW 261). Through the Buddhist methodologies, one can realize one's essential unity with the thing investigated. In that state of interconnectedness there is no observer to study an object, there is only pure undifferentiated consciousness perceiving itself (MoF 86). In this way clear perception is possible.

If one examines the Buddha dharma as a merely intellectual enterprise its true value will not be realized (ZM 97; HS 89,90). This may be difficult for western intellectuals to accept, however the importance of personal practice lies at the heart of the Buddha dharma. Only through the process of meditation can one awaken from the dualistic preconceptions that keep us deluded by the material energies and perceive the non-dual nature of Reality. By this means only is there release from suffering (HoU 31).

The first stage of Buddhist meditation is the mental renunciation of the world. The world, according to Buddhism, has three primary marks or aspects that require an intelligent person to seek liberation. These are 1) impermanence, 2) suffering and 3) not-self. Everything that exists within material world is temporary, directly or indirectly suffers, and has no permanent self nor independent existence despite our illusory slumber. Therefore, an intelligent person, according to the Buddha, will seek to escape the 'burning house' of name and form at any cost (ED 113). The method of escape or awakening is Buddhist meditation (ED 17).

In Sanskrit, the language of the oldest Buddhist writings, meditation (dhyana) is directly linked with cultivation (bhavana) which means attending or cultivating knowledge (WBT 67; EDY). Meditation therefore is the contemplative cultivation of the knowledge of the nature of reality, with the intention of freeing oneself and, in the Mahayana traditions, the world from suffering (SW 189).

There are two basic forms of Buddhist meditation. The lower is samatha or samadhi (the development of concentration). When perfected, this method results in the "Sphere of Nothingness" (or Neither-Perception-nor-Non-Perception). This method of meditation produces ecstatic trance states. It may be roughly equated with the Hindu nirvikalpa samadhi or the Jewish Kabbalists meditations on En-Soph.

The other form of meditation is the development of insight (vipassana). This was the method discovered by the Buddha. Samatha was an older yogic practice that the Buddha found insufficient. Through vipassana one gains insight into the nature of existence. This leads to complete liberation of the mind and the realization of Ultimate Truth: Nirvana (WBT 68).

Without meditation, Buddhism is merely another of the World's numerically significant Religions (HoU 11). With meditation, Buddhism becomes a tool for transcending duality and perceiving the inter-connectedness of all things. It becomes more than a religion; it becomes a complete system of psychology and philosophy with great relevance to modern science and current intellectual suppositions at large (ED 17). Buddhism, in short, is now fully at home in the West, is a complete system with universal applications and implications.
The Buddha said, "One who practices the Way is like an ox that carries a heavy burden through deep mud. The labor is so difficult that he dares not glance to the left or to the right. Only when he gets out of the mud is he able to rest. Likewise, the shramana should look upon emotion and desire as the deep mud, and with an undeviating mind he should recollect the Way. Then he can avoid suffering (SFT 83).

The End



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Peace, Love, and Light!