Where is Buddhism religion practiced?

buddha with plato and aristotle at the academyThis is for the UK’s Guardian newspaper. The short article is set to be the start of a series on the topic, so we can look forward to further installments in the days to come.

Today’s article rehearses some of the issues we’ve seen raised in the news and among bloggers lately, namely the decontextualization of Buddhist practices, rebranded as “mindfulness” and sold to people free of “religion.” However, McGhee does want to distinguish between:

  1. the development of what might be called a new Western (or American or wherever) Buddhism, with notably different belief structures and/or particular practices, art forms, pilgrimage sites, etc, and
  2. a reduction of Buddhist practice to a technique.

He writes, specifically:

But it is one thing to seek to liberate Buddhist practice from unsustainable or unbelievable worldviews and another to reduce it to a mere technique, even one that is therapeutic. The usual culprit is the calming technique that makes it easier to carry out the bombing run or makes one a more sharply predatory capitalist. The reason one might want to say that meditation has been reduced to a technique is that it has lost its essential rootedness as a practice of ethical preparation.

This last bit is important.

But first it is worth noting that #1 is happening, though just how much, where, and when is a contentious topic. You can listen to me and some amazing scholars discussing certain aspects of Buddhism in the West with Ted Meissner here. Some of that contentiousness that I have seen – and this seems to be from practitioners/bloggers more so than from academics – is found in the argument that #1 is not happening and can not happen: that any authentic Buddhism will always be in Asia and the best that Westerners can do is to mimic that as much as possible.

Returning to the practice’s “rootedness as a practice of ethical preparation” (that’s a mouthful). This is a bit different from the usual approach, which discusses ethics as preparatory to mindfulness, which is in turn preparatory to wisdom, the old sila, samadhi, panna 3-fold path. What McGhee seems to be saying is that practices such as meditation are themselves ethical preparation. For what? For a life lived wisely.

What dictates what wisely means? The broader, living tradition with all of its ceremonies, rituals, and community. This is what McGhee sees being lost when we try to move Buddhism out of the category of religion. Thus, the growing wariness of “teachers” offering mindfulness under various logos and trademarks as a stand-alone tool to help people work harder, get richer, and feel better about themselves is entirely appropriate.

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Study: Science and Religion Really Are Enemies After All  — BillMoyers.com
They are Atheists, though not “Materialists”. In fact many people question if Buddhism is a religion at all. (It is.

New Support Group Offers Buddhist-Based Addiction Recovery  — The Daily Planet
Buddhism is a religion born in ancient India in which meditation is a central tenet.

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