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Comparing Buddhist Practice, East-West in Soka Gakkai Los Angeles

2:44 AM Parvesh Bravo 4 Comments

Buddhist teachings educate that Siddhartha went on a devout journey. He spent forty-nine days in a state of contemplation to discover enlightenment on ways to end human torment and suffering. His meditation retreat showed him the way to enlightenment and from that instant he became the Buddha. The Buddhist custom began to spread as Buddha wanted more individuals to find joy and happiness in their lives, while also recuperating the lives of those around them.

In today's Buddhist tradition, those steps and philosophies are still going strong. Books on Buddhism flourish as more individuals want to begin finding tranquillity and peace in themselves rather than their exterior surroundings. By improving on their own inner peace it is said to lead to individuals helping others end their suffering. It is a very dignified cause and the spirituality Buddhism symbolizes has many Western people turning to the religion Buddhism.

For example, while indigenous socially engaged Buddhist activists in Soka Gakkai Los Angeles have often utilized ‘loving-kindness’ meditation practices as a means of responding to the troubles of others, in Los Angeles, people have found that the emphasis seems too often be on how loving-kindness practice can be deployed as a mode of self-transformation, self-help and dealing with individual psychosocial traumas. 

The practice of ‘dana’ has likewise evolved different significance and meaning in the two contexts. In conventional Buddhist cultures, the practice of dana, or alms giving ceremonies to ordained monks, is often intensely intertwined with notions of humanizing good karmic merit so as to secure a happy and fortunate rebirth. On the contrary, in many of my research encounters in Los Angeles, dana seems to be most often perceived as a pragmatic, simple way of supporting one’s spiritual institution, teacher or community through voluntary donation. Therefore, while its rootedness in Buddhist moralistic ideas of ‘letting-go’ is emphasized, quite often the practice itself is deprived of the soteriological implication found in Asian Buddhist cultures.

However, while they may seem quite diverse from the outside, therapeutic metta meditation and merit-making dana do share common attributes. Both are oriented toward cultivating emotional wellbeing and happiness in oneself. So as much as American Buddhist practitioners deemphasize concerns about the accretion of merit or karma and notions of rebirth, which are at the core of the dana impulse in more conventional contexts, their focus on metta still obtains sentimental experiences that are resembling those that Asian Buddhists are seeking through dana. In other terms, these rituals are meant to cultivate a compassionate heart, ease the mind, and eventually lead to inner freedom. Dana as merit in Asia and metta as therapy in the Soka Gakkai Los Angeles are both about constituting a happier, more ethical self.

More than this, their actual innovation is in how they revive and retain elements in popular traditional Buddhism that are foremost about inward, personal experiences. So while the cultural trappings of Eastern traditions and Western teachings have considerable differences, the fundamental commonality is how they are both essentially about similar—and similarly transformative—modes of understanding.

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