Buddhist modernism also referred to as modern Buddhism ,  modernist Buddhism  and Neo-Buddhism  are new movements based on modern era reinterpretations of Buddhism. The sources of influences have variously been an engagement of Buddhist communities and teachers with the new cultures and methodologies such as "western monotheism ; rationalism and scientific naturalism ; and Romantic expressivism". The Neo-Buddhism movements differ in their doctrines and practices from the historical, mainstream Theravada , Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhist traditions. A co-creation of Western Orientalists and reform-minded Asian Buddhists, Buddhist modernism has been a reformulation of Buddhist concepts that has de-emphasized traditional Buddhist doctrines, cosmology, rituals, monasticism, clerical hierarchy and icon worship.
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Buddhist modernism also referred to as modern Buddhism ,  modernist Buddhism  and Neo-Buddhism  are new movements based on modern era reinterpretations of Buddhism. The sources of influences have variously been an engagement of Buddhist communities and teachers with the new cultures and methodologies such as "western monotheism ; rationalism and scientific naturalism ; and Romantic expressivism".
The Neo-Buddhism movements differ in their doctrines and practices from the historical, mainstream Theravada , Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhist traditions. A co-creation of Western Orientalists and reform-minded Asian Buddhists, Buddhist modernism has been a reformulation of Buddhist concepts that has de-emphasized traditional Buddhist doctrines, cosmology, rituals, monasticism, clerical hierarchy and icon worship.
Buddhist modernism emerged during the late 19th-century and early 20th-century colonial era, as a co-creation of Western Orientalists and reform-minded Buddhists. It de-emphasized or denied ritual elements, cosmology, gods, icons, rebirth, karma, monasticism, clerical hierarchy and other Buddhist concepts.
Instead, modernistic Buddhism has emphasized interior exploration, satisfaction in the current life, and themes such as cosmic interdependence. According to McMahan, Buddhism of the form found in the West today has been deeply influenced by this modernism. Buddhist Modernist traditions are reconstructions and a reformulation with emphasis on rationality, meditation , compatibility with modern science about body and mind.
Instead, Buddhist Modernists often employ an essentialized description of their tradition, where key tenets are reformulated in universal terms, and the modernistic practices significantly differ from Asian Buddhist communities with centuries-old traditions.
The earliest western accounts of Buddhism were by 19th-century European travelers and Christian missionaries who, states Coleman, portrayed it as another "heathen religion with strange gods and exotic ceremonies", where their concern was not understanding the religion but to debunk it. They described Buddhism as a "life-denying faith" that rejected all the Christian ideas such as "God, man, life, eternity"; it was an exotic Asian religion that taught nirvana , which was explained then as "annihilation of the individual".
In , Edwin Arnold's book The Light of Asia presented a more sympathetic account of Buddhism, in the form of the life of the Buddha, emphasizing the parallels between the Buddha and the Christ. He identified several characteristics of Buddhist modernism: new interpretations of early Buddhist teachings, demythologisation and reinterpretation of Buddhism as "scientific religion", social philosophy or "philosophy of optimism", emphasis on equality and democracy, "activism" and social engagement, support of Buddhist nationalism, and the revival of meditation practice.
The term Neo-Buddhism and modernism in the context of Japanese Buddhist and Western interactions appear in late 19th-century and early 20th-century publications. Shaku's student D. Suzuki was a prolific writer, fluent in English and he introduced Zen Buddhism to Westerners. Although greatly altered by the Meiji Restoration , Japanese Zen still flourishes as a monastic tradition. The Zen Tradition in Japan, aside from the New Buddhism style of it, required a great deal of time and discipline from monks that laity would have difficulty finding.
Zen monks were often expected to have spent several years in intensive doctrinal study, memorizing sutras and poring over commentaries, before even entering the monastery to undergo koan practice in sanzen with the roshi. At the onset of the Meiji period, in , when Japan entered into the international community and began to industrialize and modernize at an astounding rate, Buddhism was briefly persecuted in Japan as "a corrupt, decadent, anti-social, parasitic, and superstitious creed, inimical to Japan's need for scientific and technological advancement.
In addition to this, industrialization had taken its toll on the Buddhist establishment as well, leading to the breakdown of the parishioner system that had funded monasteries for centuries. This Japanese movement was known as shin bukkyo, or "New Buddhism. The fact that what was presented to the West as Japanese Zen would be so commensurate with the Enlightenment critique of "superstitious," institutional, or ritual-based religion is due to this fact, as such ideals directly informed the creation of this new tradition.
Suzuki's teacher in Zen until his death in , was an important figure in this movement. Largely responding to the Reformation critique of elite institutionalism, he opened Engakuji monastery to lay practitioners, which would allow students like Suzuki unprecedented access to Zen practice. Advocates of New Buddhism, like Kosen and his successor Soyen Shaku, not only saw this movement as a defense of Buddhism against government persecution, they also saw it as a way to bring their nation into the modern world as a competitive, cultural force.
Kosen himself was even employed by the Japanese government as a "national evangelist" during the s. Zen would be touted as the essential Japanese religion, fully embodied by the bushido , or samurai spirit, an expression of the Japanese people in the fullest sense, in spite of the fact that this version of Zen was a recent invention in Japan that was largely based on Western philosophical ideals.
Soyen Shaku, Suzuki's teacher in Zen after Kosen's death in , claimed "Religion is the only force in which the Western people know that they are inferior to the nations of the East Let us wed the Great Vehicle [Mahayana Buddhism] to Western thought…at Chicago next year [referring to the World Parliament of Religions] the fitting time will come.
Though economically and technologically bested by the Western powers, Japan saw a chance to reassert its sense of cultural superiority via religion. For a number of reasons, several scholars have identified D. Suzuki —whose works were popular in the West from the s onward, and particularly in the s and 60s—as a "Buddhist Modernist. That he was a university-educated intellectual steeped in knowledge of Western philosophy and literature allowed him to be particularly successful and persuasive in arguing his case to a Western audience.
As Suzuki presented it, Zen Buddhism was a highly practical religion whose emphasis on direct experience made it particularly comparable to forms of mysticism that scholars such as William James had emphasized as the fountainhead of all religious sentiment. Zen is the ultimate fact of all philosophy and religion. Every intellectual effort must culminate in it, or rather must start from it, if it is to bear any practical fruits.
Every religious faith must spring from it if it has to prove at all efficiently and livingly workable in our active life. Therefore Zen is not necessarily the fountain of Buddhist thought and life alone; it is very much alive also in Christianity, Mohammedanism , in Taoism , and even positivistic Confucianism.
What makes all these religions and philosophies vital and inspiring, keeping up their usefulness and efficiency, is due to the presence in them of what I may designate as the Zen element. Scholars such as Robert Sharf have argued that such statements also betray inklings of nationalist sentiment, common to many early Buddhist Modernists, in that they portray Zen, which Suzuki had described as representing the essence of the Japanese people, as superior to all other religions.
Ambedkar in the s. According to Ambedkar, several of the core beliefs and doctrines of traditional Buddhist traditions such as Four Noble Truths and Anatta as flawed and pessimistic, may have been inserted into the Buddhist scriptures by wrong headed Buddhist monks of a later era. These should not be considered as Buddha's teachings in Ambedkar's view. Navayana abandons practices and precepts such as the institution of monk after renunciation, ideas such as karma, rebirth in afterlife, samsara, meditation, nirvana and Four Noble Truths considered to be foundational in the Buddhist traditions.
Ambedkar called his version of Buddhism Navayana or Neo-Buddhism. Other forms of Neo-Buddhism are found outside Asia, particularly in European nations. It is a re-adaptation, a kind of Buddhism "a la carte", that understands the needs and then is reformulated to fill a void in the West, rather than reflect the ancient canons and secondary literature of Buddhism.
Some Western interpreters of Buddhism have proposed the term "naturalized Buddhism" for few of these movements. It is devoid of rebirth, karma, nirvana, realms of existence, and other concepts of Buddhism, with doctrines such as the Four Noble Truths reformulated and restated in modernistic terms. According to James Coleman, the focus of most vipassana students in the west "is mainly on meditation practice and a kind of down-to-earth psychological wisdom.
For many western Buddhists, the rebirth doctrine in the Four Noble Truths teaching is a problematic notion. It may not be necessary to believe in some of the core Buddhist doctrines to be a Buddhist, though most Buddhists in Asia do accept these traditional teachings and seek better rebirth. Since the fundamental problems underlying early Indian Buddhism and contemporary western Buddhism are not the same, the validity of applying the set of solutions developed by the first to the situation of the second becomes a question of great importance.
Simply putting an end to rebirth would not necessarily strike the western Buddhist as the ultimate answer, as it certainly was for early Indian Buddhists. Traditional Buddhist scholars disagree with these modernist Western interpretations.
Bhikkhu Bodhi , for example, states that rebirth is an integral part of the Buddhist teachings as found in the sutras, despite the problems that "modernist interpreters of Buddhism" seem to have with it. According to Owen Flanagan, the Dalai Lama states that "Buddhists believe in rebirth" and that this belief has been common among his followers.
However, the Dalai Lama's belief, adds Flanagan, is more sophisticated than ordinary Buddhists, because it is not same as reincarnation , rebirth in Buddhism is envisioned as happening without an assumption of an "atman, self, soul", rather through a "consciousness conceived along the anatman lines". In traditional Buddhism, rebirth continues the dukkha and the path to cessation of dukkha isn't suicide, but the fourth reality of the Four Noble Truths.
According to Christopher Gowans, for "most ordinary Buddhists, today as well as in the past, their basic moral orientation is governed by belief in karma and rebirth". A denial of karma and rebirth undermines their history, moral orientation and religious foundations.
The "naturalized Buddhism", according to Gowans, is a radical revision to traditional Buddhist thought and practice, and it attacks the structure behind the hopes, needs and rationalization of the realities of human life to traditional Buddhists in East, Southeast and South Asia. According to Burkhard Scherer — a professor of Comparative Religion, the novel interpretations are a new, separate Buddhist sectarian lineage and Shambhala International "has to be described as New Buddhism Coleman or, better still, Neo-Buddhism".
The charismatic leadership of Nydahl and his dharma centers worldwide have made it the largest convert movement in Eastern Europe, but its interpretations of Tibetan Buddhism and tantric meditation techniques have been criticized by both traditional Buddhists and non-Buddhists. Others have used "New Buddhism" to describe or publish manifesto of socially Engaged Buddhism.
For example, David Brazier published his "manifesto of the New Buddhism" in , wherein he calls for radical shift of focus from monasticism and traditional Buddhist doctrines to radically novel interpretations that engaged with the secular world.
According to Brazier, the traditional Buddhist traditions such as Theravada and Mahayana have been "instrument of state policy for subduing rather than liberating the population", and have become paths of "individual salvation rather than address the roots of world disease".
Donald S. Lopez Jr. This "sect" is rooted neither in geography nor in traditional schools but is the modern aspect of a variety of Buddhist schools in different locations. Moreover, it has its own cosmopolitan lineage and canonical "scriptures," mainly the works of popular and semischolarly authors—figures from the formative years of modern Buddhism, including Soyen Shaku , Dwight Goddard , D.
No doubt, according to the early Indian Buddhist tradition, the Buddha's great discovery, as condensed in his experience of nirvana, involved the remembrance of his many former existences, presupposing as fact the reality of a never-ending process of rebirth as a source of deep anxiety, and an acceptance of the Buddha's overcoming of that fate as ultimate liberation.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. New movements based on reinterpreted Buddhism. Main articles. Tibetan dissemination. Theravada dissemination. Zen dissemination. Amidist dissemination. General Buddhism. Dharma Concepts. Buddhist texts. Buddhism by country. Main article: Buddhism in the West. But, 'rebirth' is considered superstitious by many in the West while 'heaven' is not, adds Flanagan, though a reflective naturalistic approach demands that both 'heaven' and 'rebirth' be equally questioned".
Lopez, Buddhist movements in the West have reconstructed a "Scientific Buddha" and a "modern Buddhism" unknown in Asia, "one that may never have existed there before the late 19th-century". But few Western Vipassana teachers pay much attention to the more metaphysical aspects of such concepts as rebirth and nibbana, and of course very few of their students are celibate monks.
Their focus is mainly on meditation practice and a kind of down-to-earth psychological wisdom. This they attempt through merit accumulation and good kamma. These teachings, as clear as day-light, are accessible to any serious seeker looking for a way beyond suffering. When, however, these seekers encounter the doctrine of rebirth, they often balk, convinced it just doesn't make sense. At this point, they suspect that the teaching has swerved off course, tumbling from the grand highway of reason into wistfulness and speculation.
Even modernist interpreters of Buddhism seem to have trouble taking the rebirth teaching seriously. Some dismiss it as just a piece of cultural baggage, "ancient Indian metaphysics," that the Buddha retained in deference to the world view of his age. Others interpret it as a metaphor for the change of mental states, with the realms of rebirth seen as symbols for psychological archetypes. A few critics even question the authenticity of the texts on rebirth, arguing that they must be interpolations.
A quick glance at the Pali suttas would show that none of these claims has much substance.
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