Buddhism in America: Ajahn Chah

Reflecting today on the recent scandals in some “Buddhist” communities in the United States, and with so few in the west really familiar with the Early Buddhist texts, I stumbled across this today:

I remember when Ajahn Chah came to America to
teach. Because he had done some traveling and had taught in a few
different places, he was asked, “Now that you have been in America
for a while, how do you feel about Buddhism coming to America?”
Ajahn Chah had this blank look on his face and said that Buddhism
hadn’t come to America yet: “I haven’t seen any Buddhism yet.”
Ajahn Chah could be naughty sometimes.

Abundant, Exalted, Immeasurable, LP Pasanno (2016)

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Indeed. Its kind of interesting that Ajahn Chah had more faith in the UK as being a place where Buddhism could take root rather than the US. Mainly because he felt American culture didn’t respect tradition very much and would want to change the dhamma too much to their own ends. By and large, I think he was pretty spot on.

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@dharmacorps you make a very good point. On one hand, the US is a large enough country with a real diversity of practices and points of view, and there is a fairly strong contingent of EBT/traditional Theravada here that I feel Ajahn Chah might be pleased with. On the other hand, the US has been a breeding ground for a lot of stuff that claims to be “Buddhism,” that has deviated rather strongly, and badly from the teachings and practices of the Buddha. The recent disclosures of severe abuses and traumas within some leading communities ( Shambhala, ATS, and others) really illustrates how badly these communities can go wrong when the Dhamma is ignored and ethics abandoned.

I’ve often wondered why in this country the effective medicine of the Buddha’s Dhamma is so often ignored or rejected in favor of the ‘new agey’ or weird western zenny spin that some communities create. (Note, I am not referring to traditional Zen communities that teach and practice with honor and ethics). For example, Shambhala owns a large building in my city, and has thousands of members that flock to its cheery new agey quasi-Buddhist talks. And yet, if one recruited a well regarded Forest monastic to come give a talk, you might get 10 people showing up to learn the Dhamma.

Maybe it’s the same way that research has shown that Americans would sooner take a possibly dangerous pill to lose weight , than exercise and cut back on unclean foods. Maybe the path of the Dhamma takes some effort and insight, and these other dodgy communities offer something more appealing to the American sensibility. Yes, it seems that Ajahn Chah understood something, but hopefully as things shake up in this country, some folks might be drawn to the Dhamma. I posted a comment here a month or so ago, Same Old Story in a New World - Tricycle: The Buddhist Review that mentions some of my thoughts in this regard.

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This is a beautiful post @UpasakaMichael. I landed at the Thai Wat I attend wholly by accident. I later discovered that there are “Western”-oriented Buddhist and meditation groups also relatively nearby. I am glad that I found the Thai Wat first as it has provided me with the tools and community that are strengthening my practice.

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I hope that theravada and the EBTs gain more of a foothold here. It seems like presently we are at the margins of what would overall be considered the “Buddhist community”. When I get out there and talk to other American “Buddhists”, it really hits home. We seem to be seen by our fellows as extreme, traditional, rigid, and (interestingly) foreign (in the sense of being a part of a foreign Asian culture, not American culture).

I don’t really care how we are seen, and neither should any of us of course because all human cultures are faulty, but unfortunately we are probably practicing in a time, place, and culture that is less commensurate with the dhamma than most. If we can come to terms with that its not a problem. America is still a young culture working itself out, and I very much so hope it does. My family is deeply rooted here-- I do love our people, blemishes and all.

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Reflecting today on the recent scandals in some “Buddhist” communities in the United States,

I regularly peruse the titles in a mixed denomination Buddhist forum on another site.

It seems like Asian Buddhists are more than keeping up with their American counterparts in terms of scandals.

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I could find a nice article on “The Bahiya Blog”: The journal of an American Theravada Buddhist monk, sharing experiences and philosophical reflections after his return from 20 years in the forests of Burma.
He has named his blog as ‘The Bahiya Blog’ which means the name of his second blog ‘THE OUTSIDER’. I guess it is because he feels him as an outsider among the Burmese.

Last year when I was in Bali I was asked to give a talk about Respect. I started the talk by pointing out that an American teaching Asians about respect is like a turtle teaching birds about flying.

Even to expect even one fifth of the respect that monks receive in a Buddhist culture like Burma would be laughably unrealistic. This is a matter of American culture, and of Western culture in general—so it would be foolish to blame Westerners for being Westerners. This is just the way it is.

We had both attended a brief talk given by an American Dharma teacher in which he referred to a Buddha image, which he was officially installing under a Bodhi tree, as “this little sucker,” twice, in possibly the most devoutly Buddhist country in the world, with Burmese people in the audience, and I pointed out the ironic strangeness of that, the strange contrast of the two approaches to Buddhism.

she informed me she didn’t want someone like me in her house or around her kids…which was the most extreme disrespect I had ever experienced coming from her direction. I admit, though, that from an American point of view she may have been perfectly justified.

Once I noticed on a Buddhist forum that one Asian person had mentioned that I had lived in a Burmese forest for years (often not even in a building), and another (Western) person’s response was along the lines of, “So what. Forest rangers live in forests too.”

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