This post was inspired by a post by Arunlikhati over at Dharma Folk and by my comment to that post. Arunlikhati's post was regarding Western Buddhism and this idea by some in the west that western philosophy will somehow make Buddhism "better:" I personally don't think western Buddhists would make Buddhism better but simply different and more applicable to their/my culture. As the various Buddhist traditions around Asia aren't better than another (In my view, though some might think so) but reflect the needs and different aspects of their culture.
The term "Western Buddhist" is rather amorphous in my view. Since there is no native Buddhism in America a Western Buddhism would have to borrow much from an Asian Buddhist tradition but, which tradition? Or do we borrow a little bit from Theravada, Vajrayana, Mahayana and Zen (some place Zen into its own tradition of Buddhism)? Yet if we do that then doesn't it risk becoming the soup with too many ingredients, which cancel each other out leaving a odd and not so fulfilling taste?
And who makes those decisions? Will some council meet like the infamous Councils of Nicea in early Christianity, which some argue caused more harm than good. Or will there still be these different traditions but with the descriptor "Western" in front of it to delineate the tradition being influenced by "western" culture and philosophy. That is the option that I prefer and believe the most likely to emerge from the vague and foggy term, "Western Buddhism." For example, I now often say that I am a Western Zen Buddhist and if further pressed, "...as taught by Thich Nhat Hanh" to show that I am a westerner to describe my particular cultural tradition who practices Zen Buddhism.
I use to believe in a Western Buddhism but now I'm not so interested because of all the variables and questions that I mentioned.
I just think that the "western" part should apply only to the western culture and how it adds and influences whatever school of Asian Buddhism that a westerner follows. In this way we are honoring and maintaining as our foundation (the Asian traditions and heritage) but also paying respect and celebrating our western culture/philosophy as a wonderful addition to our particular traditions.
In the end It doesn't come down to any of this--these labels are mere fingers pointing to the glorious moon. It comes down to the present moment where labels mean nothing. However, it is an issue that needs to be discussed and fine tuned because right now "western Buddhists" are like a man without a country or a ship without a sail adrift in a sea of opposing currents and shifting winds.
PHOTO CREDIT: I couldn't find the photographer who took this but this is the site where I found it.
~Peace to all beings~
Acknowledgement: The Buddhist Blog