Buddhism in the Modern World: Adaptations of an Ancient Tradition

Buddhism in the Modern World: Adaptations of an Ancient Tradition

Buddhism in the Modern World: Adaptations of an Ancient Tradition

Buddhism in the Modern World: Adaptations of an Ancient Tradition

Synopsis

The history of Buddhism has been characterized by an ongoing tension between attempts to preserve traditional ideals and modes of practice and the need to adapt to changing cultural conditions. Many developments in Buddhist history, such as the infusion of esoteric rituals, the rise of devotionalism and lay movements, and the assimilation of warrior practices, reflect the impact of widespread social changes on traditional religious structures. At the same time, Buddhism has been able to maintain its doctrinal purity to a remarkable degree. This volume explores how traditional Buddhist communities have responded to the challenges of modernity, such as science and technology, colonialism, and globalization. Editors Steven Heine and Charles S. Prebish have commissioned ten essays by leading scholars, each examining a particular traditional Buddhist school in its cultural context. The essays consider how the encounter with modernity has impacted the disciplinary, textual, ritual, devotional, practical, and socio-political traditions of Buddhist thought throughout Asia. Taken together, these essays reveal the diversity and vitality of contemporary Buddhism and offer a wide-ranging look at the way Buddhism interacts with the modern world.

Excerpt

Several movies that have gained worldwide popularity in recent years have highlighted a sense of difficulty and dismay in accepting the inevitable and sometimes radical challenges and changes that Buddhist institutions and practitioners have undergone in modern times. The 1980s film The Funeral, by the late Itami Juzo, portrays a Japanese Buddhist priest performing traditional mortuary rites, such as the bestowing of a posthumous Buddhist name, as an activity that seems hypocritical and corrupt in a modern world characterized by avarice, jealousy, greed, and the breakdown of long-standing family structures. Similarly, The Cup (1999), by Khyentse Norbu, a Tibetan lama who studied filmmaking with famed director Bernardo Bertolucci, shows a group of young monks who, despite their monastic robes and shaved heads, are more eager to watch an important soccer match on television than to adhere to their strict training program that does not allow for secular distraction. Such images of Buddhism caught between worlds—one seemingly archaic and pure and the other fragmented and contaminated by impurity— are frequently reinforced by other ironic media constructions of Buddhists. These include a variety of postmodern drawings of Bodhidharma shown as a kind of corporate samurai that graced the covers of Mangajin, a magazine on Japanese culture that was popular in the 1990s, as well as television ads for IBM that show monks secluded in remote mountains mastering the art of high-tech software.

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