In societies which hold the individual as the focus of ideological progress, many people become excited at the idea of becoming “different” or more “original.” Westerners tend to cherish individuality to the point of rebellion, attempting to stand out and draw attention to themselves by their lifestyle, clothing, hairstyles, or adoptive cultural tendencies. In the last few decades, a variety of people – from Christian apostates and atheists, to crypto-Marxists and reform Jews – have been part of an interesting current. Perhaps, in an attempt to reject the “old clothes” of Christendom, they have decided to take on the “new clothes” of Buddhism. In America and Europe, the s0-called “progressives” are attracted by the mere idea that it is a an ultra-permissive religion and the antithesis of Western thought. Those Western individuals find Buddhism “exotic” and are spurred on mostly by the superstitious, secret, and arcane qualities they perceive in this religion.
Such people convert under a spell of delusion, because ultra-permissiveness is not inherently associated with traditional Buddhism, any more that it is associated with Christianity. In this sense, the when progressives attempt to incorporate Buddhism into their lifestyle, they are in reality attempting to hijack Buddhist ideas for themselves and make them fit into their secularist lifestyle.
Much of Buddhism in the West has been combined, in varying degrees, with the New Age movement. The New Age movement has little to do with any of the mainstream branches of traditional Buddhism. As the eminent scholar, A. K. Coomaraswamy once stated, Buddhism today is “most famous today for everything it originally never taught.” In the East, where Buddhism existed under the patronage of the Chinese, Indian, Tibetan, or Japanese cultures, there was a certain regard for tradition, self-cultivation, and a metaphor for the divergence of heroic spirit from the sentiments of modern people. According to these versions of Buddhism, a man can, as Evola describes it, “overcome the state of caducity, restlessness, ‘thirst’ and the forgetfulness typical of ordinary people” by his secession from the visible and material world. In this doctrine, there is a metaphor for the divergence of heroic spirit from the sentiments of modern people.
‘Western’ Buddhism – if there is even such a thing – is the exact opposite of this. In fact, it overtly panders to the sentiments of modernity. Buddhism, as practiced by many people in the West, exists in name only, attracting the most miserable ex-Christian rejects and atheists. It has degenerated into an extremely sick religion inhabited by atheists, agnostics, and at best, pantheists. These people congregate together at ‘dharma-centers’, which are little more than outpatient mental wards for depressed materialists, and engage in idle chatter about attainment of oblivion and the denial of all things spiritual. The crisis of Western Buddhism is therefore characterized only by secularism and its worldly character. This criticism is supported by clear textual evidence (atthakathas), which can not merely be explained away as a matter of diverging interpretations, or even the product of historical evolution. The modern, revisionist, version of Buddhism lends itself to an unspiritual historical exegesis according to the letter. It is an exegesis which virtually ignores a deeper meaning implied in the Nikayas and explained in the commentaries. As an example, Siddhartha said “the six senses and their world are not the soul” (cf. Chachakha Sutta, MN 3). It seems odd, then, that modern Buddhists should say of the Buddha that he taught the rejection of the soul, because this would mean clinging to the six senses. Rather than denial of the soul, the Buddhism does teach one to distinguish the distinguish predicates of the soul from the very soul itself, and thus transcend base instincts.
Western Buddhism is almost entirely modernist. Contrary to what its purveyors might believe, it is not ancient or traditional, and certainly not traditionalist. Western Buddhism has been heavily influenced by the concepts of freethought and secular humanism. It has become a platform for mundane social activists, who incorrectly fancy themselves “experts” on the topic because of their involvement in purchasing all manner of trinkets and implements. The fact is that Western Buddhists largely ignore any aspect of Buddhism which requires self-discipline, as they have distorted the original message of Buddhism into an amoral doctrine in order to mix politics and religion.
If the modern portrayal of Buddhism is representative of the teaching of the Buddha, then it is certainly an ingenious exposition which can prove war to be peace and freedom to be slavery. However, if the premises of this portrayal are flawed, then the modern explanation of Buddhism is certainly not worth studying except as a lesson regarding the famous “principle of degeneration” which was already well-discussed by other Traditionalists like Evola. Traditional Buddhists worldwide need to take back the religion from the modernist heretics, and not allow Buddhism to turn into a rubbish-heap of mystical spiritual suicide and nihilism.
The author of this article was raised in a Buddhist family. He is currently a Roman Catholic.