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Buddhism will not really be established in the West until it learns to speak the language of Western culture. (Sangharakshita)
Sangharakshita has tried to distinguish between those elements of Buddhism in Asia that are fundamental and universal, and those which are concerned with a particular region. However, this does not mean that cultural expression is unimportant. Buddhism is not an abstract philosophy; it addresses the emotions as well as the intellect and offers the basis for new understandings of the world, and even new mythologies. He believes that western Buddhists need to create a new Buddhist culture that is genuinely Buddhist, yet speaks the language of western culture. This is a daunting challenge, as both western culture and Buddhism are vast and hugely varied. Yet he suggests that a key to engaging with both as an aspect of the Buddhist path is through the imagination. This means perceiving life in its wholeness with both reason and emotion, and through images and metaphor – as is the case
in the Arts. Imagination is a faculty that can be developed and refined, and can be connected with the traditional Buddhist faculties of faith and wisdom: ways of experiencing that go far beyond concepts or feelings.
Appreciation and practice of the Arts is seen within our community as an important means of engaging the emotions in the spiritual life and of making a bridge between traditional Buddhism and Western culture. The Buddhist perspective creates a standpoint from which to develop a consistent critique of western art. At the same time, some of the greatest western artists, poets, and writers have had intuitions of the higher states to which Buddhist practice leads.
There are many working artists, musicians, and writers practising within the Triratna Buddhist Community. Some produce traditional Buddhist images, which are gradually becoming more western in appearance and ‘feel’; others are working within the western traditions. In recent years this has resulted in the production of a number of plays and musical works, retreats devoted to the arts, and two Buddhist arts centres in the UK. Urthona magazine is devoted to exploring the arts from a Buddhist perspective, and in India the Asvagosha Project successfully took the Dharma
to people in the villages by way of street drama, songs, and storytelling.
Read Subhuti’s account of Sangharakshita’s latest thinking on Buddhism in the west and the world of images.