Friday, 29 December 2017

Progressive Buddhism, a reflective evaluation

Recently I was asked, roughly, "what exactly is Progressive Buddhism." 

I had to think a bit. First, our sidebar says:
About Progressive Buddhism
This is a group-blog on the topic of progressive, modern Buddhism - looking at Buddhism in the light of modern knowledge, free from excessive dependence on ancient dogmas; looking at the best ways to integrate Buddhism into modern life and modern societies; discussing and encouraging an empirical or scientific approach; seeing insight and awakening as a living tradition not just a historical one
If you'd like to contribute please get in touch.
How does that differentiate us from other forms of Buddhism? Focusing in on these two terms, 'progressive' and 'Buddhism', how does each inform the other in our lives?

Inner development / outer development

In initial response is two-fold. On the one side I hope to continue to explore how the dharma finds use and meaning in my life. And on the other side I think about dharmic responses to political issues that are shaping my life. This allows me to be open both to new teachings and interpretations of them and to the changing world around me.

Concerning "Progressive Buddhism" specifically, here is a portion of an email I sent out to fellow contributors today:
I'd like to think that we represent a particular flavor or tendancy within all forms of modern Buddhism: a tendency to engage, to listen to people who are different from us (refugees, the homeless, the LGBTQ community, non-Buddhists of all stripes, people from near and far), and to seek connection and to alleviate suffering for all, recognizing that Buddhist practices and ideals of old might not apply and serve today or tomorrow - following the Advice to the Kalamas to test for ourselves and see. We also recognize that systems matter: capitalism, authoritarianism, white privilege, patriarchy, etc all shape the suffering in ourselves and those around us. How can we expect those most oppressed by these systems to see the benefits of Buddhism if Buddhism replicates and enforces the systems too?
This means that we do not leave or look down upon other Theravadins, Zen, or Tibetan practitioners (or the many others out there); but that we do seek to balance our practice and learning with progressive engagement in the world.

Some areas where I'd like to see us work in the year to come include:

  • 'Buddhist' economics (e.g. this interview/book)
  • Climate Change 
  • Promoting Openness in Sangha hierarchies
  • Developing Democracy, decentralized decision-making
  • Promoting women and people of color 
  • Advocating generosity and non-violent responses at home and around the world
  • Showing the benefits of simple life (renunciation of consumerist greed)
Those are all in the more 'progressive engaged' category. What about the 'progressive dharma' side?
  • Key teachings of the Buddha
  • Wisdom from later Indian, Tibetan, Chinese, etc developments
  • The 'dharma' of science and Western wisdom sources

What is 'progressive engagement'?

Engaged Buddhism is a category created by Thich Nhat Hanh, specifically in reference to the need for Buddhists to 'engage' with the crisis of his home country, Vietnam, during the war there. Non-engaged Buddhism, in this instance and after, is that which seeks to avoid politics, avoid worldly affairs, avoid rocking the boat of the powers that be. 

The addition of 'progressive' to the already widespread movement of engaged Buddhism points to specific ideals of inclusiveness and equality

This point invites further development and reflection, which I will leave to a later post. This is different from other forms of engaged Buddhism that might focus on developing meditation centers and translating sutras anew. These are great and are no-doubt part of our own lives and worlds, but they are not necessarily our focus. 

The politics of progressive Buddhism

As we are a global movement, no particular affiliation need be sought. In the U.S., where I live, I think our values align more with the Democrats than with Republicans, though we needn't close our eyes and ears to Republican ideas. We also might align more with the Green or Democratic Socialist parties on many or most issues. 

As suggested above, not every 'progressive Buddhist' will want to be directly or heavily involved in politics. Perhaps for some, new and relevant understandings of dharma in modern life is just what is desired. That is fine. For others, a pretty solid engagement with politics, especially where issues of inclusiveness and equality are at hand, will feel like a natural extension of Buddhist practice.

There is no need to affiliate; though discussions of affiliation are welcome. In the U.S., I know we will be facing major elections in 2018 and I hope we can discuss issues and candidates (and parties) that we feel will best embody the values we hold.

The dharma of progressive Buddhism

For those less interested in politics, please contribute if you can to our understanding of the dharma in your life. What suttas/sutras appeal to you? What wisdom of Buddhism has found its way into your life?

Mentioned explicitly here already is the Sutta to the Kalamas. But other teachings, and practices, will have meaning to us at different times. Let's share those and help one another connect deeply with the dharma in these often trying times.

With loving-kindness and deep bows to all. Wishing you a warm new year and a peaceful and richly connected 2018.