There is a certain unease among traditionally trained Buddhists which is that some of that which goes under the heading of ‘Buddhism’ in the West is questionable regarding its authenticity. The fear is that some of the adaptations that have taken place over the years have departed too far from the basic teachings of the Buddha.
The discomfort is not only felt by traditionally trained monastics. There are many westerners too who are concerned about what is going under the heading of ‘Buddhism’.
There is a movement towards making Buddhism easy to take, light weight, or as I’ve heard it referred to ‘Buddha-Lite’. It is being packaged, sold, and tinkered with in a way that is bordering on deception; a kind of counterfeit dharma. Somehow Buddhism is fashionable, popular, and there are many who are taking advantage of that for financial and prestigious reasons. Publishers also make a point of having Buddhism marketed alongside Mind Body Spirit, New Age, and stress management books.
People say, ‘It’s not a religion, is it? It’s a way of life,’ which is, of course, true, but that means that Buddhism is not divorced from anything one does in life, not that it is materialistic. Buddhism is about getting to the root of existence, the truth of self, our delusions regarding what the self actually is, not how to prop up the ‘self’ and make it feel better. The body is going to die, and the personality is going to disintegrate; we cannot avoid it. Buddhism, traditionally, has always been hard to take; it is not light weight; the point is to realise what is beyond the conditioned mind, to realise without views and opinions, to face the indescribable nature of existence and nonexistence. This is something to experience, not to study, think about or dwell on. We shall probably have to face some disturbing moments of truth in our investigations when the so-called ‘self’ or ego has the spotlight of dharma shone upon it.
In the past, disciples were not enticed to embark on the path by realised masters. On the contrary, they were discouraged. Why? Because it is not the easy option. One needs to have given up looking for happiness in the world before the right intention is engendered to find liberation and a deeper happiness.
Yes, there are cultural accretions that we can do without in some forms of traditional Buddhism, simply because they are cultural accretions, and in this sense we do need to bring it into the twenty-first century if it is going to survive, but we should take care not to tamper with the basis of Buddhism. After all, what is the point of replacing Eastern cultural accretions with Western ones. Facing the living reality of what we are, or of what life is, cannot be improved upon in the twenty-first century.