Enhancing culture through Buddhism

I’ve been exploring and a practicing Buddhist for 10 years or so and I still feel like a sterile ol’ mindfulness meditator that can recite the 3 marks of existence, 4 noble truths, eightfold path, ect. but my culture (american?) has no development, growth, cultured manifestations of these teachings in our daily life. Imagining what the disciples of the buddha, and sri lankans, thais, and burmese for that matter think and act like on a daily basis is very distant from my understanding (i think…). I’ve wanted to immerse myself in buddhist culture, movies, novels, tv shows, comics etc. just to be able to have a place to indulge that is not completely backwards from my philosophy of life. I think making buddhist cosmology and jataka tales more accessible just as we use nordic/greek cosmology in our everyday entertainments would be of immense benefit for all. I am really excited for Ajahn Punnadhammo’s book on buddhist cosmology coming out, his talks with ajahn sona were great. Does anyone have any other ideas of talks/books on the more lavish side of buddhism in english?

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Unfortunately no culture in “the world” can be found which embodies Buddhist values, even though obviously we can say SE Asian countries have been positively influenced by the dhamma, there is no dhammic culture. The only culture, as Ajahn Mun taught, was the culture and values of the noble ones. That means checking out from the samsaric world of movies, novels, tv shows, comics, and mass media in general. That said, I think the Buddhist cosmology book will be an excellent read, as are Jataka tales.


I agree with @dharmacorps that no culture in the world embodies Buddhist values… and yet… no matter where or when one is during the dispensation of a Buddha, I think one can see what can resonate.

A quote from Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities:

“The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.”


"Arriving at each new city, the traveler finds again a past of his that he did not know he had: the foreignness of what you no longer are or no longer possess lies in wait for you in foreign, unpossessed places.”


“Marco Polo describes a bridge, stone by stone.
‘But which is the stone that supports the bridge?’ Kublai Khan asks.
‘The bridge is not supported by one stone or another,’ Marco answers, ‘but by the line of the arch that they form.’
Kublai Khan remains silent, reflecting. Then he adds: ‘Why do you speak to me of the stones? It is only the arch that matters to me.’
Polo answers: 'Without stones there is no arch.”

There is one more, which I might add, if I can find it.

I hope this is not abuse of the forum! But these quotes speak to me about finding the Invisible City anywhere…

There is always food. Food is an integral part of just about every society’s culture. Even renunciates have to eat. There was a thread in this forum awhile back about ancient Indian cuisine:

You could try to re-create the food culture of the Buddha’s time and then practice mindfulness in your eating habits.


I feel this is a bit reductionist (Is that the right word?) and doesn’t really address the OP’s question.

My experience is that in Sri Lanka the Buddha’s teachings on karma and rebirth are infused in the culture. It manifests in many ways, not least of which is the culture of generosity in day to day life. There is also a shared set of Buddhist stories, as the OP referred to. And when you look at the literary and arts culture, until 50 years ago it was almost exclusively Buddhist, among the Sinhalese.

I highly recommend reading the Dhammapada origin stories. You can download a free ebook of a good translation here:

Ken and Visakha Kawasaki have published a three volume anthology of the Jataka stories that are mostly just an edited version of the series overseen by EB Cowel. It’s not a bad place to start either. But if you want the complete original translation, you can download ebooks here:

But saddly in the west we don’t yet have any derivitive works in the way of movies, etc, that I am aware of. But reading them is for sure a start.


thank you, i’ll definitely check those out

The truth of the Buddhist teaching transcends all culture, meaningless rites and rituals, ect. but to have fertile soil to progress along the path is crucial. I guess my point is that all Indo-European cultures of the past have the ideals of generosity, morality, peace, and wisdom at their core if they were in fact following truth. The ideas of nature spirits, demigods, gods, ghosts, demons, and ancestor worship (maybe recognition is a better word) seem like it comes naturally to a culture that is developing a sense of truth in their practices. With that being said, shouldn’t we bring those teachings and inspiration we see in other countries and cultures into nourishing our own families (including renunciates), cuisine, language, architecture, education and entertainment? maybe that is taking on a conservative point of view, but I think that’s the most crucial thing missing. For the arahant to bring home the teachings and for the community to thrive in proportion to that would be a miracle.

Magazines such as Tricycle have a fair amount of Buddhist inspired cultural artefacts such as poems, films, etc…

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It might be difficult to find any accurate teaching in entertainment but there some songs about Buddhism in Sinhalese popular culture.

There are no cultural products that produce Awakening. But even a humble street sign can point to a monastery. Might culture be more like that?

Metaphorically I hope so

My two cents. There is the dhamma ideal of enlightenment and ceasing attachment and so forth. Sure lots of cultural trappings can’t or don’t bring us there. But then, the Buddha also established a lay community that have and continued to have a thriving mythopoetic cultural production. From plays, to epics, to music, to festivals, to traditional medicine partially grounded in or inspired by te suttas. I for one am a practitioner/student of traditional Thai medicine and can say that the foundational anotomy and physiology comes right out of the dhatu vibhanga and the medical ethics right out of the five precepts and four brahmaviharas.

Coming from my background as a former academic in anthropology, I think the mythopoetic cultural components of religion has major value for society. It may not be what leads to nibbana, but the Buddha didn’t prohibit us from say, making offerings to nature spirits and devas (perhaps one can say that this practice has symbolic value in building awareness of the environment even if we didn’t literally believe in these spirits. Certainly I find value in these practices myself despite being agnostic about their literal existence).

So personally, I think this question has merit. If we are at a place in our practice to let go of these trappings and strive for enlightenment to the same extent as a monastic or even become a monastic, great. But we live in society rich with cultural and social symbolic meanings that can either lead to ethical or unethical conduct. That which inspires us towards greater ethical conduct, I believe, is a good thing, and we shouldn’t be too dismissive of all the centuries of cultural practices developed throughout Buddhist cultures.


That is a really great point. I had studied ayurvedic medicine before finding Theravada Buddhism. It was amazing to see how the principles of ayurveda were infused in the suttas, as you said, especially the elements. Reading the section in the Vinaya on medicine is also facinating because it shows how it was practiced in the time of the Buddha.

The story of Jivaka (the most highly regarded doctor in Ayurveda) is also interesting culturally. It’s found in the robe chapter, not the medicine chapter as one would think. He is the first to give a robe, that’s why it is in the robe chapter

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And still is today by traditional Thai medicine practitioners.

And his story is the first thing found in any traditional Thai medicine textbook. But I have to say, I was having a hard time figuring out where in the canon his story was, thanks for mentioning it!

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A bit of an update, I have a new venture to pull up some old Celtic textbooks and reread and reflect on the stories through my meditation. play some gigs at a local Irish pub with storytelling in between playing the traditional tin whistle, and having some friendly laughs together. I’m very inspired by Krishna Das, and I believe there’s so many western cultures that are in need of this same TLC. We’ll see what happens. :pray: