Skillfully Bringing Buddhism to the West: San Diego's Dharma Bum Temple, Part One

- through Francois Leclercq

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From Dharma Temple Bum Facebook

Common Western Misconceptions About Buddhism

The pulse of spirituality in modern America is constantly changing, and in recent years Westerners seem to be more in touch with their spirituality than ever before. Western scholars have been writing books about the Buddha's teachings for decades, and as a result, people are increasingly drawn to the practice. However, many factors make Buddhism subject to certain misunderstandings in the Western world. Explain Buddhism in a way In “Western” culture (RL1), we must first begin to explore common American misconceptions about Buddhism that often make the two experiences incompatible. The Dharma Bum Temple in San Diego, California is an excellent example of a Western temple that has functioned and continues to adapt to Western needs and mindsets. Not only does the temple want to recognize areas in which Westerners struggle with Buddhism, but ultimately, they must do this in order to successfully transform Western worldviews for the better.

Reading a book on Buddhist thought can be beneficial as a first introduction to the practice, but when introducing Buddhism to Western spaces, leaders often face a myriad of obstacles due to the way Buddhist thought Western worldviews have shaped people's lives. Above all, Westerners often find the cultural and traditional aspects of Buddhism intimidating due to their unfamiliar nature. This disconnect describes the initial cultural struggle when it came to bringing Buddhism to the West; Practices such as bowing and chanting in an unfamiliar language are foreign to most Westerners, and while many find it interesting, they usually struggle to connect with it. As a result, many Buddhist spaces in the West have a “revolving door” of visitors. People enter a cultural temple, see the formal practice, and very often do not return after their first few visits.

If Western Buddhist temples want to attract Americans to expose them to the Dharma, it is helpful to to start with the Dharma, then slowly introduce them to the ritual if they are interested.

From Dharma Temple Bum Facebook

Dharma Bum Temple co-founder and CEO Jeffrey Zlotnik has noticed this trend in Western Buddhist spaces since he began exploring the practice in 2003. As a result, he has been extremely strategic in how he has formatted and structured the Dharma. Bum Temple's different programs so people aren't too intimidated to enter the space. For example, there is no cultural ritual that anyone can must participate in classes. Dharma Bum Temple leaders recognize that if people want to understand Buddhism, they must first understand it in the realm of their own local culture. This is why presenting Buddhist thought and practice through a non-ritual lens is how Dharma Bum Temple initially introduces Buddhism. to Western peoples.

When a curious but unfamiliar American first enters a Buddhist space, they are very often in mid-to-late adulthood and looking to escape all the problems and worries they have accumulated over the years. years. Their new interest in Buddhist practice often comes from a desire to forget their past problems. This is a much greater challenge to overcome than cultural disconnect, because true Buddhist practice could not be further from an escape from struggle. This common misconception stems from the Americanized view of meditation.

What a meditation Really Means

In American culture and media, meditation is often portrayed as a peaceful, joyful experience, where the mind can easily be turned off and back on. One might imagine an anxious person sitting in silence for twenty minutes, then emerging from their meditation with a completely clear mind and understanding how to solve their problems. After being bombarded by this depiction of meditation, one might enter a Buddhist temple thinking that after sitting in meditation one will achieve peace of mind and find clarity. So when trying a meditation practice for the first time, Americans are often dissatisfied with the results and feel frustrated to discover that meditation is generally difficult and not always peaceful.

From Dharma Temple Bum Facebook

Upon discovering that meditation is not always calming, a new practitioner might find himself asking, "If the goal of meditation is not to achieve peace of mind, then what is what is it? Although there are many forms of meditation in traditions around the world, the goal is usually not to completely turn off the mind. Rather, it is about becoming aware of the present moment, even if it contains discomfort. More often than not, there is some sort of unpleasant experience in the present moment, whether mental, physical, or emotional. Meditation practice is simply about learning what it means to respond to these conditions in a calm, calm, still way. Although practitioners often cannot change unpleasant conditions or escape distressing experiences by entering a meditative state, they can refine how they respond to them through the practice of sitting and breathing. However, before practitioners can do this, they must recognize this truth. Then, once they stop expecting to emerge from meditation completely refreshed, new meditators can begin to reap the benefits of the practice.

If it is not the practice of meditation that makes people's worries disappear, many might feel that by hearing the Buddha's teachings, then their problems will begin to dissolve. Unfortunately, this is also not the case. As Thich Nhat Hanh said in The heart of the Buddha's teaching: transforming suffering, "The Buddha repeatedly said: 'I only teach suffering and the transformation of suffering.' » Very often, people tend to want to push away their suffering and use Buddhism as a bandage to cover up their previous wounds, whether they exist or not. be self-inflicted or caused by other forces or people. One likely reason for these misinterpreted assumptions is that many Western religions operate this way. Western religions tend to be belief-centered, and practitioners rely heavily on faith to guide them. In doing so, they shift responsibility for their struggles elsewhere, usually into the hands of a higher power. So, upon entering a Buddhist temple, many people might expect the practice to follow a similar guideline. The most defining realization that a new practitioner must come to is that this is ultimately not possible; Rather, Buddhist practice requires deep exploration of past and current hurts and dwelling in suffering in order to understand and transform it. The true teachings of the Buddha challenge people to take responsibility for their actions and, over time, improve through compassion and wisdom. Although it should be noted that the practice is not about clinging to old difficulties, one cannot let go of them without first exploring them.

From Dharma Temple Bum Facebook

Additionally, the teachings are often misused by new practitioners in various ways, which leaders need to be aware of when sharing the Dharma. As established, if one clings to the desire of Buddhist practice to heal them without being willing to sit down and explore their pain, simple knowledge of the teachings will be of no use to them. People often oversimplify or over-intellectualize Buddhist teachings rather than allowing the practice to manifest in their actions. Oversimplification often goes hand in hand with the concept of meditation as a simple and straightforward practice.

For example, Dharma Bum Temple offers an introductory Buddhism class twice a week where community members have the opportunity to come together, meditate and learn. The course usually ends with a question-and-answer session with Zlotnik. At this time, he prefers visitors to ask questions about meditation, practice, Dharma and anything else that may be on their heart and mind. Often, the majority of questions asked are about how to make an unfavorable feeling or mental state go away. Then they wait for a simple answer that will enlighten them in that moment and eliminate their suffering without having to explore it themselves first.

From Dharma Temple Bum Facebook

Conversely, Dharma Bum Temple also welcomes repeat visitors who feel that after taking the “Introduction to Buddhism” course several times, they are ready to “move on” to intermediate or advanced teachings. This desire to know more very much reflects the Western desire, especially when it comes to the accumulation of knowledge and status. These people often tend to center their practice around thought on Buddhism rather than implementing the teachings in their actions. For example, the temple has had visitors who claimed that they already “knew” the Four Noble Truths and were ready to know what happened next. More common than not, this "knowledge" only means that they can recite the Four Noble Truths from memory.

Therefore, the desire to "know" more is really just the desire to be able to recite more and prove to others one's intellectual knowledge of Buddhist thought. In most cases, these people do not realize that if they really would understand the truths, then they would already have a complete and complete understanding of their suffering as well as the ability to overcome it. They would understand the origins and the weight of their dukkha, and practice the Four Noble Truths and follow the Eightfold Path every day. If that were the case, then they would be much more satisfied with their personal growth. It is the desire to know more itself that reflects a discontented mind.

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Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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