Thursday, November 04, 2010

Western Buddhist Review Volume 5 Out Now!

The Western Buddhist Review is an on-line journal produced by members of the Triratna Buddhist Order and publishing articles of interest to practicing Western Buddhists. Volume 5 has just been completed and is available online at

Jnanaketu, its editor writes - “Volume 5 has a remarkable range of material. In it you’ll find six good articles, an interesting collection of book reviews, and a critical note from Sangharakshita. Although the articles will speak for themselves, I’d like to give you a taste of what they contain.

“The first piece is a substantial critique of D. T. Suzuki. Nagapriya investigates the origins of Suzuki’s presentation of Zen to the West, his relationship with militarism and Japanese nationalism and his attitude to non-Japanese people. Nāgapriya concludes that Suzuki’s legacy has probably been deeply damaging to the development of the Dharma in western countries:

“In stripping away the rituals, traditions, and practices of Zen, as well as its cultural and historical development, Suzuki dismantled Zen as a religious phenomenon. While his emphasis on the goal of Zen is perfectly legitimate, his lack of attention to the path removes the possibility of its realization”.

“An American academic, Bill Ferraiolo, compares the teaching of the Stoic philosopher Epictetus with the teaching of the Buddha, and considers to what extent the Dharma can be successfully mediated through Hellenistic philosophy. It’s good to be able to publish this piece since its aspirations are very much aligned with the Triratna Buddhist Community’s interest in excavating affinities between the Dharma and the work of western philosophers. This topic cries out for further treatment.

“The (very sadly) posthumous article by Adarsha examines the role of rights language and practice in the policies and practices of an international development agency active in India – the Karunā Trust. The author traces the origins of ‘rights’ in western discourse and suggests that rights are philosophically inconsistent with the Dhamma. He goes on to claim that whilst this is the case, there is an argument to be made for using rights language tactically, within a context of duty, and supports this contention with reference to the work of Dr Ambedkar, the Indian Dalit leader, and of Sangharakshita and others. He surveys Chambers’ “Obligations-Based Approach” which supports such a tactical stance from the angle of development, and outlines what he calls a “Dhamma-based Approach”. He concludes that “in relation to the ‘have-nots’, it is possible to use a language of rights since there does not seem to be a better language that our partners can use which enables them to tackle the systemic discrimination they suffer, and because this perspective does lend itself to bringing about meaningful social change. In relation to the “haves”, the emphasis would be on duties, as currently is our [Karuna’s] approach when fundraising on doorsteps or among the team in terms of lower salaries…..It seems to be the rule that when Buddhism enters a new culture some adaptation has to take place in order for existing paradigms and practices to be assimilated into what can be recognised as Buddhism”.

Bodhiketu seeks to shed new light on the traditional account of the stages of spiritual maturity: Stream Entrant, Once-returner, Non-returner and Arahant. After exploring the matter of ethical development, Bodhiketu suggests that this schema has been understood in such a way that the bar has been set discouragingly high, which runs the risk of undermining the confidence of Dharma practitioners. His investigations lead him to recommend a more encouraging reading of the schema, which he hopes will benefit readers’ Dharma practice. A version of this piece appeared in Shabda, but I’m sure that you’ll find this revised version valuable.

Jayarava offers a annotated translation of and detailed commentary on the one hundred syllable Vajrasattva mantra, which should be of considerable interest not only to Vajrasattva devotees, but those who are curious about the way in which mantras have come down to us. He draws attention to important themes in the mantra, and considers the nature of authenticity in relation to mantras in general.

“Last, but by no means least, Sāgaramati offers a scholarly exploration of the claims made by an eminent Indian scholar that the progressive nidāna sequence can be traced to the Cūlavedalla Sutta of the Majjhima Nikāya. In the course of this exploration, he discusses the enormous significance of the progressive sequence as it appears in, for example, and convincingly reiterates the contention that, had the implications of the progressive sequence been grasped earlier, the way in which the Dharma has been presented to the West could have been fundamentally altered.

“In addition to these articles, you’ll find substantial book reviews embracing a wide variety of topics: mindfulness and depression, money, sex, war, karma, literary theory and Buddhist scriptures, Aung San Suu Kyi, recent translations from the Pali Canon, Buddhism and science, the origins of Buddhist meditation, what the Buddha taught, and the British Buddhist scene”.

The Western Buddhist Review is produced as a labour of love by Jnanaketu and others but it welcomes donations - please visit their donations page to make a contribution.

Jnanaketu ends by saying “If you would like there to be a sixth volume of the Western Buddhist Review, please consider giving at least something - or, even better, putting us in touch with people who might consider making regular donations. Cheques can be made out to Western Buddhist Review, and sent to me at 11, Park Road, Moseley, Birmingham B13 8AB. Or you can send straight to the WBR bank account: Western Buddhist Review, HSBC, sort code 40-18-14, a/c no 51061550”.

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