Friday, January 22, 2010
For those out there who have made comments about how "stale" and "overly traditional" Buddhism is in Asia, and how the "real" innovation is happening in North America and Europe, here's an interesting story out of Japan about a monk running a bar to spread the word about Buddha's teachings to younger folks. The story itself doesn't represent the many changes and innovations that are underway in Asian Buddhist communities, but it does point to the fact that wildly unconventional approaches to the dharma can spring up anywhere.
In a similar way as Ethan Nictern and others have taken here in the U.S., the story reported above is one that mixes popular culture and Buddhist teachings. The monk in question, Zenshin Fujioka, is concerned about the concentration of grey and white-haired folks at Buddhist temples, and has chosen to break out of the box, and maybe break the precepts in the process, in order to get his message to the younger generations. His "Monk Bar," serves Buddhist teachings with a glass of booze, in modern language, with a side of hip hop. It's enough of a departure to probably make the minds of most Buddhist practitioners spin, but I wonder if there isn't something to this whole thing.
There's always a danger with any spiritual innovation that the changes made will take people away from the core teachings, and create too heavy a focus on superficial elements that might flash and catch attention, but ultimately don't lead one to have a deeper, more connected life.
I honestly wish the reporting in the story weren't so choppy and sloppy because I don't get enough of a picture to understand the full motives of Zenshin Fujioka, or what actually happens in the bar. Is he just catering to the vices of his patrons, and giving them spiritual excuses to live unexamined lives? Or is his bar an entry point for people who may have otherwise never bothered to examine their lives any deeper?
Nate over at Precious Metal takes up this story, and examines the Fifth precept primarily from a focus on whether or not it points to a prohibition of alcohol. I wrote about the 5th Precept over the summer during a wave of blog posts in the Buddhoblogosphere about said subject, so I'll let you all take a look at that post if you're interested.
But I think that these dramatic in appearance approaches, happening in at least two continents now - Asia and North America - require more than a simple "Yea" or "Nay." It's too easy to say "cool! I want in" and it's also way too easy to say "they're screwing with the dharma and should be condemned."
What do you think?
Posted by Nathan at 6:01 PM