|Image source: Buddhist Channel|
Titled “Buddhist Boomers: A Meditation” in its hardcopy incarnation, the article first conveys Strand’s belief, previously expressed in Tricycle, that Buddhism is on the ropes, in decline because it doesn’t have the family-friendly features of the Christian and Jewish faiths.
But Strand goes further in this new op piece. He says Western converts to Buddhism are deluded to think that Buddhist practice is free of dogma and superstition. And that in its “convert”ed state is “also free of folk tales, family and ... fun.”
Western Buddhism no fun? Is this guy cranky or what!?
And if many of us set aside what seems dogmatic or is superstitious in the ancient scrolls or premodern practices, hooray for that.
Further, in a remark staggeringly bizarre to me, Strand makes his case that Buddhism isn’t in sync with current science and -- get this -- isn’t, basically, peace loving:
In the contemporary discourse on religion, it is striking how often Buddhism is privileged over Judaism, Christianity or Islam as a scientifically based or inherently peaceful version of religion. Note that the Dalai Lama (rather than the pope) was asked to provide the inaugural address at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience in 2005, even though, like Catholicism, Tibetan Buddhism includes beliefs (think reincarnation) that are anathema to medical science. Likewise, though Japanese Buddhists melted their temple bells to make bombs during World War II, the idea of Buddhism as a peace-loving religion persists as an enduring fantasy in Western people's minds. And yet, such fantasies are instructive nonetheless.Today, when the Saffron Revolution in Burma weighs heavy on Buddhists’ minds worldwide, it is curious indeed that Strand chooses to say that Buddhism is not particularly peaceful. Certainly, there are calls for blessed peacemakers in the texts of the world’s other prominent religions, but Buddha’s teachings are remarkably peace loving and stripped of the justifications for war and violence found in the others.
It would be prideful for me to make the case for Buddhism’s myriad wondrous qualities, here. And it’s way beyond my scope to pull together an overview of Buddhism‘s relative excellence because I don’t know enough about religion, generally. But, is Strand nuts? The Old Testament has God requiring Abraham to slay his son. Jesus dies on the cross with the logic being that somehow that compensates for our sins. And let us not forget the Inquisition and the Crusades. And in Islam, Mohammad inveighs against the infidels and justifies making conversion to the faith by knifepoint.
Certainly, the record for Buddhism isn’t lily pure. War at slow boil continues in Sri Lanka between Buddhist sects. And in the highly nationalistic Japan of World War II, the Shinto-Zen blend of religion had a part in the war machine. But instances of Buddhist warmaking is very rare compared to other religions. That is just simply the case. How Strand arrives at the harsh ideas that he parades is mysterious.
As for Strand’s assessment that reincarnation is anathematic to medical science, I think he is wrong for two killer reasons: (1) Medical science doesn’t concern itself (or shouldn't concern itself ...) with reincarnation; it’s all about the physical properties of the body; and (2) He misses the point. The Dalai Lama, and most Western Buddhists, in contrast to adherents of other religions, accept corrections that may come from science to any “dogma” in our religion . That is why the Dalai Lama was an appropriate choice to address the Society for Neuroscience and the Pope wouldn’t have been.
In a statement near the end of his WSJ harangue Strand writes this:
Though some of my more devout Buddhist associates may balk at the idea, these days I have increasingly come to see Buddhism in America as an elaborate thought experiment being conducted by society at large--from the serious practitioner who meditates twice daily to the person who remarks in passing, "Well, if I had to be something, I guess I'd be a Buddhist." The object of that experiment is not to import some "authentic" version of Buddhism from Asia, as some believe, but to imagine a new model for religion altogether--one that is nondogmatic, practice-based and peaceful.I cannot see what propels Strand to write this. Buddhism in America is not a thought experiment, as ungrounded as the swirling wind. There is a universe of texts from teachers of our time that speak with very similar dispatch to the values and traditions carried over from the root of Buddhist teachings. As much as any religion anywhere and at any time, I would aver, American Buddhism is attentive to and guided by [but not nailed to] particular and specific concepts, teachings, traditions and goalless goals. The new technology aids us in this, keeping our ducks in a row.
Certainly there are many rather-casual Buddhists in America as there are casual adherents to any religion. But I think "Well, if I had to be something, I guess I'd be a Buddhist" is neither in any way typical nor fair nor comes from anywhere other than Strand’s fertilized imagination.
Strand has established well the reputation he seeks as American Buddhism’s harshest, meanest, fact-flightiest critic. [In a 2003 article in Tricycle, Strand called American Buddhism racist. See Strand quote midway in this blog post.] What makes Strand most hurtful and harmful is his ongoing connection to Tricycle magazine where he has long been a contributing editor and a praised favorite of the magazine’s editor-in-chief, James Shaheen. Strand’s WSJ article cites his connection to Tricycle, giving the imprimatur to outsiders of him being a scholarly Buddhist heavyweight.
The last portion of a Oct. 28 article about the Dalai Lama’s visit to Canada, published in the Toronto Star [and shortly thereafter posted to The Buddhist Channel], gets commandeered by Strand’s damning views on Western Buddhism as he is treated as a knowing and reliable authority.
I think that Strand has lost objectivity regarding Buddhism and has other religious fish to fry -- his next book is called How to Believe in God (Whether You Believe in Religion or Not) [Scroll to the bottom of Morgan Road Books' current News & Events notice]. For whatever reason [Bitterness? Loss of fervor?], Clark Strand has lost the Buddhist mojo he had in the past as a Zen monk, founder of a monastery, and Buddhist writer. It is time he was relieved of the connection to Buddhism Tricycle gives him that is used as his claim of being authoritative.
Update 11/15: Both the New York Times, in "Autumn of the American Buddhist," and Tricycle, with "Graying Buddhism?", have posted opinion pieces regarding Strand's Wall Street Journal essay. Both the Times and Tricycle focus solely on the idea of Buddhism dying out in America and not other issues Strand raised.
Tags: buddhism, Western Buddhism, Clark Strand, Tricycle magazine