Whilst in Northumberland on a short visit, I was pleased to be able to meet Dr
One element of his research has been in understanding the population of Buddhists in the
There are difficulties with questions such as ‘how many Buddhists are there in the
Statistics on numbers of religious adherents are potential political and propaganda tools as in ‘lies damn lies, and statistics’. The greater the number of members that a religion can justify, the greater the influence and privilege it can lay claim to.
My experience with those who are practising Buddhism is that many are not very interested in adopting and promoting their conventional identities; in fact quite the reverse. The liberation taught by the Buddha included freedom from attachment to identities of all sorts. So the desire to lay claim to the privileges associated with ones ethnic, cultural, sexual orientation, gender, physical attributes, geographical, and age identities may not be too appealing to many of those sincerely interested in the Buddhist path.
A kingfisher alighted at the feeding table in Robert’s garden. We watched through a spotting scope as it fed. Kingfisher's and other wild birds have developed quite a wide range of feeding habits. A few years ago I had a woodpecker regularly eating ants from nests in my lawn - apparently this is an example of adaptation - new behaviour previously not seen - as the right sort of trees become harder to find.
I asked Robert about ordination practices that he had found whilst undertaking his research. What we call ‘ordination’, conditions us to think in Western terms, usually with ideas of monks or priests. Perhaps undertaking or embarking on a form of Buddhist training might be a better way to understand what happens when a lay-person becomes a traditional bhikkhu, for example. At
This contrast with adaptations that have been applied in various Westernised Buddhist traditions. As one example on a continuum, the FWBO have dropped the vinaya and the idea of householder or monk, and use a ten precept form. A request to be ordained as a member of the Western Buddhist Order may take many years (up to ten) before ordination is granted by the preceptors, and this is not automatic. In a sense this looks more like a graduation or perhaps initiation process than an embarkation on an ongoing training.
Robert and I also discussed the way Buddhism has collected cultural accretions – like barnacles - over its history. Although this image suggests the largely discredited idea of an essential core Buddhism lying beneath the barnacles.
Why should Western people sit cross legged on cushions for meetings for example? Or the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives use a form of English organ music?
However, such minor adaptations are surely pretty trivial when set against the aim of freedom from suffering, and perhaps the irritation or lack of patience we might experience makes these things useful examples of the way we can so easily generate dukkha.
(Routledge Critical Studies in Buddhism)
Routledge, an imprint of Taylor & Francis Books Ltd