[Buddha-l] leaving home - culturally speaking

Piya Tan dharmafarer at gmail.com
Tue Dec 11 18:06:19 MST 2007

On Dec 12, 2007 7:13 AM, curt <curt at cola.iges.org> wrote:

> T.S. Eliot's "The Wasteland" famously ends with "shantih shantih
> shantih". What's up with that? It turns out that Eliot is just one of
> many Western intellectuals over the years who have been heavily
> influenced by Eastern thought in their youth, only to retreat to the
> beliefs/ideologies of their "upbringing" with advancing age. In their
> own (very different) ways Paul Williams and Stephen Batchelor have
> become two of the more recent (and high profile) members of this club.

Some years back (early 2000s), Paul Williams (family pressure?) announced
he has "reverted" to Roman Catholic. Wonder what is status is now?


> But the Western embrace of Hinduism and Buddhism continues to progress
> slowly - despite the backsliders - if one takes a long view. Charles
> Wilkins translation of the Bhagavad Gita into English was first
> published in 1785 - it was probably read by William Blake and other
> English "Romantics". Schopenhauer wrote in 1819 that his own philosophy
> coincided closely with Buddhism (as he understood it) - even though he
> insisted that he had *not* been directly influenced by Buddhism in the
> development of his philosophy (see his "The World as Will and
> Representation", vol 2, ch 17). In the same sentence he also asserts
> that Buddhism is the "religion that the majority of men on earth hold as
> their own" - which is not as crazy as it sounds if one conflates
> Hinduism with Buddhism and adds the populations of India, Japan, China
> and "Indo-China" together! In 1800 the population of the world was
> probably around 1 billion - while the population of China alone was
> probably close to 400 million.
> By 1900 the West had it's first real live Buddhist monk in the person of
> Allan Bennett - although Henry Olcott had already become a lay Buddhist
> prior to that - and even though Helena Blavatsky (Olcott's partner in
> crime) did not formally "convert" she insisted that Buddhism "came
> closer to the truth than any other exoteric form of belief". And by 1912
> Alexandra David-Neel was learning Sanskrit and Tibetan and studying
> Tantric Buddhism in Sikkhim.
> But it wasn't until much later in the 20th century that larger numbers
> of Westerners converted to Buddhism and/or Hinduism. By the end of the
> 20th century the rate of conversion had obviously peaked and the Sanghas
> of Buddhist/Hindu converts were decidedly aging.
> Looking at the short term trend could lead to panic, but in the long run
> things are looking pretty good. 100 years ago there were only the
> tiniest handful of Western Buddhists. 100 years before that Westerners
> were just starting to have a faint (and only a very faint) idea that
> such a thing as Buddhism even existed. And 100 years before that
> converting to Buddhism, had such a thought occurred to anyone, would
> have been a serious crime.
> Interest in Buddhism and Hinduism increases among Westerners during
> times when there is a combination of idealism (optimism concerning the
> human spirit) and skepticism (concerning "our own culture") - such as
> during the Romantic period and the 60's. Right now we are in a time of
> skepticism concerning the human spirit and increasing cultural
> conservatism (up to and including xenophobia) in the West. The current
> Zeitgeist simply isn't conducive to the spread of the Dharma - at least
> not the kind of spread that was seen during the 50's - 80's. But this,
> too, will pass.
> Curt Steinmetz
> P.S. Here are some interesting links:
> "Vedic Influences on 19th Century America":
> http://www.indiadivine.org/audarya/vedic-culture/190010-new-book-re-vedic-influence-19th-america.html
> "T.S. Eliot and Indic Traditions":
> http://www.hindu.com/br/2005/01/25/stories/2005012500131700.htm
> "The Bhagavad-Gita and the English Romantic Movement":
> http://www.exoticindiaart.com/book/details/IDE923/
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