August 29, 2008

Thich Nhat Hanh on presenting Buddhism to the West and vice versa

When asked, "What do you think are the best ways to present Buddhism to the Western Students?," Thich Nhat Hanh replied:
"I think Buddhism should open the door of psychology and healing to penetrate more easily into the Western world. As far as religion is concerned, the West already has plenty of belief in a supernatural being. It's not by the law of faith that you should enter the spiritual territory of the West, because the West has plenty of this."
This is a particularly revealing quote about Buddhism, not just because it addresses the West's general sense about Buddhism being 'just another religion,' but in the unique way Buddhism is perceived by its practitioners and how it works as a methodology to a) assist in the study of human psychology and b) help relieve and remedy common psychological and emotional problems.

When asked how Western thought can contribute to Buddhism, Nhat Hanh answered, "democracy and science." He writes,
"Personally, learning about science has helped me to understand Buddhism more deeply. I agree with Einstein that if there is a religion that can go along with science, it is Buddhism. That is because Buddhism has the spirit of nonattachment to rules. You may have a view that you consider to be the truth, but if you cling to it, then that is the end of your free inquiring. You have to be aware that with the practice of looking deeply, you may see things more clearly. That is why you should not be so dogmatic about what you have found; you have to be ready to release your view in order to get a higher insight. That is very exciting."
Source: The Best Buddhist Writing 2007, ed. Melvin McLeod.


Anonymous said...

Great post. I don't agree though. I believe that Buddhism is more than just a philosophy - it's a religion and if it's going to be alive as such in the West, it will have to bring in its specific beliefs (perhaps reformulated) to the West. I don't know how one can call something Buddhism if it ignores the fact that the stories of Buddha include Gods and nature spirits and so on.

Anonymous said...

Buddhism may be non theistic but it's still a religion. As such it makes claims about the nature of the universe and it's underlying supernatural mechanisms like karma and reincarnation.

The real danger with religion is that real life decisions become based on supernatural considerations or on the dictates of holy men.

They call him James Ure said...

Yet another reason that I follow in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh.