The Making of Buddhist Modernism

The Making of Buddhist Modernism

The Making of Buddhist Modernism

The Making of Buddhist Modernism

Synopsis

A great deal of Buddhist literature and scholarly writing about Buddhism of the past 150 years reflects, and indeed constructs, a historically unique modern Buddhism, even while purporting to represent ancient tradition, timeless teaching, or the "essentials" of Buddhism. This literature, Asian as well as Western, weaves together the strands of different traditions to create a novel hybrid that brings Buddhism into alignment with many of the ideologies and sensibilities of the post-Enlightenment West.

In this book, David McMahan charts the development of this "Buddhist modernism." McMahan examines and analyzes a wide range of popular and scholarly writings produced by Buddhists around the globe. He focuses on ideological and imaginative encounters between Buddhism and modernity, for example in the realms of science, mythology, literature, art, psychology, and religious pluralism. He shows how certain themes cut across cultural and geographical contexts, and how this form of Buddhism has been created by multiple agents in a variety of times and places. His position is critical but empathetic: while he presents Buddhist modernism as a construction of numerous parties with varying interests, he does not reduce it to a mistake, a misrepresentation, or fabrication. Rather, he presents it as a complex historical process constituted by a variety of responses -- sometimes trivial, often profound -- to some of the most important concerns of the modern era.

Excerpt

On a chilly Friday evening in my first year of teaching at Franklin and Marshall College, I was led at the behest of an earnest student down a dark street to the hippest nightclub in town. Inside, ghoulish sculptures protruded from flat black walls, flashing lights and ear-splitting music emanated from gyrating musicians on stage, and the darkened dance floor writhed with pink mohawks, lip and eyebrow rings, black leather, and torn jeans. and off to the side, sitting placidly in a dim corner by the bar, were five Tibetan Buddhist monks in their gold and saffron robes preparing to take the stage. When the band took a break, the monks emerged in the spotlight and, after a brief introduction by the student, performed some guttural chanting and a short pūjā ceremony. Some in the young audience appeared puzzled but maintained a respectful silence. Others looked satisfied, not understanding the Tibetan syllables or the mechanics of the ritual but knowing that something exotic, spiritual, profound, and very cool was happening. Afterward, a spokesperson for the local chapter of Students for a Free Tibet briefly discussed the Chinese occupation of Tibet and handed out some pamphlets, and the thrashing and gyrating resumed. the monks quickly moved on to their next stop, a show at Carnegie Hall the following evening.

It was one of the countless encounters between Buddhists and interested westerners—characterized by overlapping interests and . . .

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