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Breaking Buddhism

September 4, 2013

Q: Why do you think Buddhist leadership is broken?

The Arahant: It’s not about what I think, it’s what’s happening. All over the Buddhist world, temples are closing, attendance and collections are down, and the quality of monks is lamentable. The leaders got their positions by being conservative and not changing anything; now that policy is killing them. Not that there’s anything terribly wrong with what they’re doing, but the social changes due to Western influence are moving too fast for them to adapt.

On the other side, Buddhism is apparently growing in the west, but at the cost of changing the teachings and practices. Some of the things taught in western sanghas are unrecognizable as the Buddha’s teaching. They are taking Christianity or psychology and dressing it up as ‘Buddhism’.

Both the conservative stick-in-the-mud monks and the radical western Buddhists are sabotaging themselves; the easterners by not changing, and the westerners by changing indiscriminately. They are both flying Buddhism into the ground.

What is needed is to retire the old ways of presenting the Buddha’s teaching, and develop a new style of presentation compatible with western values, without changing the teaching or practices themselves. Obviously, if you have understood our materials, this is what we are trying to do.

The problem is that no one is watching the social trends and thinking ahead. They are assigning the wrong cause to the problems they are experiencing, so their response is inappropriate. Worst of all, they have little scope to experiment and fail. The eastern monks because of the general mood of conservatism, and the westerners because they think they have to pay rent on big buildings and retreat centers.

They are all missing the real point, which is the Internet. People are increasingly going online for entertainment, education and social connection. Few people are willing to put up with the inconvenience of going out to a temple when they can read the Suttas at home. Why deal with the politics of a broken or deviant sangha, when you can meditate in your bedroom?

Monks need to get out of their comfortable temples and see what is going on in the real world. The blame for the temple system dying is not on the people, it’s on them for being unaware, for not responding intelligently. People still experience just as much dukkha as before, maybe more. Change is accelerating in all levels of society, in all areas of the world. It took 50 years for Americans to go from dial-up telephones to smart phones; in some parts of south Asia it took 10 years.

That level of change produces incredible stress. I have visited islands in the Pacific that went directly from dugout outrigger canoes to jet planes and cell phones in a generation. Their rate of suicide is astronomical, especially among the youth. They don’t understand the world anymore; they can’t. We all have the same problem, perhaps to a lesser degree.

Again, what is needed is a new way of presenting the Buddha’s teaching that works in today’s world, and will work in tomorrow’s world. It has to involve the Internet—there’s no other viable solution. Monks have to become web-savvy and adjust their teaching style. People now are disturbed, impatient, lazy, spoiled, busy, distracted and driven by convenience. That’s OK, just find out what they are doing already, and use that to deliver the Buddha’s teaching.

From → Leading by Being

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