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Karl Brunnholzl is the prolific author and translator of several volumes on Indian and Tibetan Buddhism. A physician extensively trained in Buddhist study and practice, he teaches frequently in North America and Europe.

It seems that Western Buddhists today are pretty much aware that we need to get rid of the Asian backpack we are carrying around—with its heavy load of cultural forms and all the stuff we use to dress up the dharma. If we want to discover “what works” for us today, we have to look into this backpack, and see what’s essential and what’s for show.

The idea isn’t just to get rid of one form of cultural garbage and introduce another. When it comes to our own life and spiritual path, our own happiness and suffering, we need to get to the heart of the matter.

At the same time, we need to look at our own culture. Are we creating a “made in the USA” backpack (or “made in Canada” or whatever Western stomping ground we’re from) and filling it with our version of the same rules and rituals?  We may have problems with Asian cultural forms but have no problem with the cultural forms we’re taking on in the West, whether they’re helping us understand the real point of the dharma or not.

The idea isn’t just to get rid of one form of cultural garbage and introduce another. When it comes to our own life and spiritual path, our own happiness and suffering, we need to get to the heart of the matter. We really need to find out for ourselves what the wisdom is at the core of any tradition we practice and be able to distinguish it from the cultural trappings that deliver it. It’s up to Westerners to translate the Buddha’s teachings, to develop Western cultural forms that will help us become learned and realized beings, and at the same time, to be aware of our own cultural traps.

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    Comments

  1. avatar Robert Bullock says:

    I don’t need to get rid of the backpack because I never put it on. I felt like a phony or lousy practitioner at times because of that. But I feel like this Rebel Buddha guy has got my back and that maybe there was a little wisdom in my approach after all…

  2. avatar mirta says:

    it doesn’t make any sense, your proposition is dualistic, we are not westerners or easterners, we are human beings looking for awareness, trapped in different narratives but sharing the same nature and laws of cause and effect…you are talking about different scenes, not essence…this approach sounds tribal and separatist, and Buddha pointed about the nature of inter-connection of everything in our world of perception

    • avatar Robert J. Bullock says:

      Mirta, all narratives are culture-bound, possibly to a greater degree than we can imagine. It’s not really a contradiction to recognize this while also recognizing that, “in essence”, there is no separation, no boundaries between us. We are naturally one but if we are to express anything, the illusion of duality is going to start doing it’s thing.

      If you can see through the illusion, wonderful, I would call you free! But I don’t think the illusion ceases to appear just because we know “the secret”. ;-)

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