My name is Gwyddion Flint, I’m a British writer, artist and educator.
Later this year I will be ordaining as a monk within the Theravada tradition of Buddhism. The reason for starting this blog was in order to record the process in detail and to continue to write and talk about Buddhism in general.
Despite planning to ordain in the Theravada tradition I also have an affinity for the Zen tradition, which was my first encounter with Buddhism and taught me many things about meditation, which I have integrated with my Vipassana meditation practice.
Despite my plan to ordain within a Buddhist monastery system, I still see the benefits of a ‘secular Buddhism’ of which the Buddhist researcher Stephen Batchelor advocates, and of a scientific Buddhism of which the author Robert Wright advocates.
I’m currently based at Wat Mahathat Buddhist Vihara, located in Kings’s Bromley in the U.K. where I will be teaching English, Philosophy, Meditation, and Yoga and generally being helpful.
Please feel free to ask me any questions, or even to visit!
Below is a yoga routine and selection of postural exercises intended to help with flexibility and comfort while sitting in meditation.
The routine will not help you sit in lotus pose immediately, but is intended to help with posture and comfort progressively over time, the more you do them the more they work and eventually they will allow your hips and legs to settle into lotus pose (as long as you have no medical conditions preventing you from doing so). I’ve also tried to make it a simple routine so that it can be done everyday if you chose to.
Despite putting together a yoga routine for meditation practitioners that helps them eventually ease into lotus pose, there are many other poses that can be used while meditating: for instance Burmese pose which I use most of the time myself, half lotus, or the use of a meditation bench or cushion. It is also good to break up long periods of sitting meditation with walking meditation. In fact, in another article I am currently writing I advocate the practice of running meditation.
Please rememberthere is no reason why you cannot meditate while sitting in a chair, the aim is to be comfortable, although not so comfortable that you fall asleep, and not so uncomfortable that you’re in pain or can’t concentrate and hold a relaxed focus.
The Lotus pose is useful because it allows you to sit very much like a tripod on the floor, the two knees are the first two points of contact with the floor and the bones of the pelvis represent the other point of contact, together they provide a solid base for the spine which in turn provides a solid base for the head and neck.
Of course, at first your knees will not touch the ground but given time through stretching the hips, thighs and hamstrings they will. it is not recommended to force your legs into lotus pose as this will strain the joints and ligaments, especially around the knees which can cause long-term problems. So loosen up the hips and they will take the strain off of the knees.
It is also possible to actually do the practice of Vipassana while carrying out the various yoga poses in preparation for sitting meditation, being aware of both breath and sensations, in fact that should be a given. So that by the time you come to sit, you will already be focused.
I would recommend doing this series of exercises before sitting for long periods of Zazen or Vipassana because it will also prevent pain and discomfort which you might carry with you off of the meditation mat and throughout the rest of the day.
In a future version of this article I will include a video of me running through the sequence and giving advice, but in the meantime I will add links to useful videos and images of the poses with some explanation.
Some might consider Yoga Asana and Buddha Vipassana to be mutually exclusive, but if yoga asana, indeed any activity, is done from the basis of Vipassana then there is no reason why the same insights would not arise, of course eventually, sitting in a settled position will give you the stillness and quietude that will allow you to go deeper on the meditation objects.
First we want to have some basic understanding of posture, in the past I didn’t know much about posture and suffered from a lot of pain in my neck, back and shoulders, especially while meditating. Through physiotherapy, yoga and research I found a lot of useful resources that have allowed me to meditate for long periods of time again.
Above is a picture of various kinds of hip, back and neck alignment. I myself had mild Lumbar Lordosis, this I was able to fix by tilting my pelvis and holding it there for a short amount of time every day until I naturally held it in the correct alignment. My shoulders weren’t held back properly and that was fixed by remembering every often to rotate them around and back and to open my chest more, lastly I needed to pull my head up and stack it above my neck. To do this you can imagine a cord pulling up through your spine and neck and coming out of the top of your head. And as the old saying goes, keep your chin up!
The head leaning forward creates a lot of pressure which the muscles have to make up for with strain, by stacking your head over the neck bones it takes some of that pressure off through out the day. I know some men feel a bit embarrassed about holding their head up and shoulders back because they don’t want to look aggressive or cocky around others, but it really is a natural posture as long as the chest isn’t thrust out because the buttocks are too far back as in the Lordosis diagram above.
Below are some useful postural videos helping to rectify the posture, you find that by doing these you feel far more comfortable while sitting in meditation and in your daily life.
Asanas for Vipassana
It is good to do a warm up before beginning the asanas, usually I do a couple of rounds of sun salutations to warm up and will use this in classes, or if you are more athletic: push-ups, squats, crunches can be added, indeed anything that will get your blood moving around your body and get your muscles warmed up to prevent injury, getting your blood moving will also help with settling into seated meditation later.
First we will start with the arms, neck, back and shoulders, before moving onto the hips and legs. There are ten asanas for the upper body, and ten asanas for the lower body.
10. Tiriyaka-Dandasana (Twisted Staff Pose) Bring head to floor behind you to increase stretch in shoulders (Both sides)
Hips and Legs
Hands Clasped Lunge (Like in the Video Link but clasp your hand together and raise them up behind your shoulders for the shoulder stretch, do on both sides) If you find the low lunge easy, then you can switch it to a high lunge.
2. Lizard Pose (if you can get your elbows to the floor comfortably, then you can try to reach both arms out in front of you on the floor to try and get your chest to the floor to get a deeper stretch)
8. Ankle to Knee/ Ankle to Knee Forward Fold (Both Sides, once you can sit in ankle to knee pose aim to forward fold over the legs till the top leg touches the chest or you can touch your head to the floor)
9 .Standing Ankle to Knee/ Fold over Standing Ankle to Knee (Both sides, after you can stand with ankle to knee aim to forward fold for a deeper stretch)
10. Burmese Pose, Half Lotus, Lotus (Below are three options for sitting on the floor in meditation depending on your needs) Remember, if you are not ready for any of these poses on their own, a chair, a meditation stool or a cushion can be used.
I recommend finishing the series with neck stretches, holding the neck in each stretch for 30 seconds, left and right, up and down, left ear to left shoulder, right ear to right shoulder, then diagonally up and down on each side. You can do these while sitting in your final posture if you are comfortable enough to do so. Note: Don’t do neck circles (as popular as they are with some yoga instructors) they can compress your cervical nerves and cause other long term issues. I wish someone had told me that years ago!
At this point it would be a good time to settle into Zazen or Vipassana, then after a period of time intersperse that with walking meditation. I hope these routines help you in your meditation practice and prevent a lot of pain and discomfort in your life. Look out for my further posts on meditation in future!
If can manage Lotus pose then the following optional routine can help to increase comfort, depth and flexibility of lotus, as well as the length of time you can sit in Lotus pose:
Lotus Forward Fold – Lotus Stand – Lotus Fish – Full Lion – Lotus Headstand – Lotus Core Raises
Once you have mastered lotus pose, this will give you the most stability for your spine while sitting on the floor, of course it takes time to get to the point where your legs feel comfortable enough to sit for long periods of time in this pose. The lotus pose allows you to sit very much like a tripod, with your two knees on the floor and the bones of the pelvis as the third point of contact.
Buddhism has this uncanny (but useful) obsession with numbers, I believe this is because – as it originated as an oral tradition – using groups of specific numbers would have helped the early Dhamma practitioners to remember vast amounts of rather complicated information and concepts.
I hope the list and resources below will help people while they are learning some of the main Buddhist concepts and also act as a kind of memory device. I know how difficult it can be to remember some of these things, especially when you want to keep in mind the names of suttas and other elements of Buddhism at the same time.
There are twelve beads on my mala bracelet so I decided to leave the number to 12 in order to keep the list simple. This is also a good way to remember these ideas, there are only so many numbers you can hold in your head at once, so one way to do that is to follow in the oral tradition of early Buddhism and simply turn them into mantras and associate each number to a bead on your mala. Because this list is not exhaustive I will probably write a follow up article of important numbers in the future.
I’ve added the number 108 because it is a number that pops up a lot in Buddhism as well as other religions, and it is the usual number of a full set of mala beads. Although I might add, that whenever asked, Buddhists tend to give very different answers regarding this number depending on who you ask. As a sacred integer it predates Buddhism by a long time and it may be we never know the initial meaning it may have had, but I will add some of the meanings that are ascribed to it below.
Also, I’ve included a few Mahayana references in this article, since my experience extends into some of the Mahayana concepts and interpretations as well as the Theravada and I try to express that where I can.
(Provisional Dualistic Reality -one way of making sense of non-dualism) These would probably be better described as two lenses, or ‘modes’ of looking at reality rather than ontological truths. In fact I will write further about this in a future article. Below is a link to the Theravadin explanation, which in the Abhidhamma is not too dissimilar to Nagarjuna’s interpretation as far as I’m led to believe but again, I will look into this further in a later article. Unfortunately it would seem that in general Mahayana Buddhists don’t tend to know about the Abhidhamma as it exists in Theravada and would claim many of its concepts as exclusively theirs, much as with the concept of the Bodhisattva: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theravada#Two_truths
(Sometimes referred to as ‘The Parable of the Poisoned Arrow’) A parable describing the difference between the inevitable pains of the world and the preventable suffering we create for ourselves. It is a simple way of describing the concept of Dukkha to someone who is interested in Buddhism.
Another Buddhist arrow parable video that links quite nicely to the first:
3: The Three Jewels
(Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha) The first three things you might learn in Buddhism are the ‘The Three Jewels’, they are the three things that we hold in high regard as precious, much like jewels. We remember them whenever we bow or prostrate ourselves three times to a Buddha image in a temple or monastery. It’s important to distinguish that we are not worshipping these things, the image of the Buddha is actually a focus point for us to pay our respects and remember the deeds and example of the Buddha. The Dhamma is the order of things as they rightly are, the clear teaching of these things is also known as Dhamma. Practicing the Dhamma will lead us from ignorance and much unneeded suffering, and the Sangha is the community that we belong to which exists only by mutual support, hard work and compassion.
(Anicca, Dukkha, Anatta) The three marks of existence are Anicca: Impermanence/flux, Dukkha: Un-satisfactoriness, and Anatta: Non-self
How the three marks of existence are interlinked: The world is impermanent and in constant flux. there is nothing we can cling to that will stay the same forever, this also means that it is not possible to find a permanent point of self, much less a permanent one. Because of this, when we do try to cling to things in this world, whether objects, wealth, other people, pleasant states of being, or even our own views about ourselves we will always be left with un-satisfactoriness. Aversion, or trying to push away unpleasant feelings, or things that we do not want in life is the counterpart to clinging and also causes Dukkha. But this doesn’t mean we are doomed to suffer, because in fact the majority of Dukkha is caused by ignorance and illusion. The eightfold path was created by the Buddha in order to help people out of the situation of compounded suffering.
The Five Precepts are the basic code of ethics that lay followers of Buddhism undertake. Even if you are not a Buddhist you are expected to follow them while visiting Buddhist monasteries, temples or holy places, or while attending meditation retreats.
To refrain from killing
To refrain from stealing
To refrain from sexual misconduct
To refrain from lying (Sometimes interpreted as to refrain from ‘false speech’, since there are many other types of falsity and negative modes of speech.)
To refrain from drugs and alcohol (Sometimes interpreted as to refrain from ‘intoxication’.)
(Khandas) The five material and mental factors that are part of the arising of craving and desire. They are also the factors that comprise a sentient being’s body and psyche, which is important in defining ‘anatta’ or ‘non-self’. I will write about this link further in a future article about emergence, non-self and the ‘modular theory of mind’, as well as an article on the concept of ‘sunyata’ or ‘emptiness’/’no-thingness’ and ‘atammayata’ or the ‘un-contrived’.
The parts on the list are interdependent and give rise to emergent phenomena. Once again the below list can be further broken down into more descriptive teachings:
Material form, or the physical world (rūpa).
Feeling or sensations (vedanā).
Mental formations (saṅkhāra)
Below is a link to a talk given by Ajahn Brahm explaining The Five Aggregates:
6: The Six Kinds of Reverence
Satthu-garavata – reverence for the teacher/master
Below is a link to Yuttadhammo Bhikku’s talk on The Practical Application of The Eightfold Path
9: The Nine Attributes of the Buddha
Itipi so bhagava He, the Blessed One,
Araham is indeed the Pure One,
Sammasambuddho the Perfectly Enlightened One.
Vijjacarana-sampanno He is impeccable in conduct and understanding,
Sugato The Accomplished One,
Lokavidu the Knower of the Worlds.
Anuttaro purisadamma-sarathi He trains perfectly those wishing to be trained.
Sattha deva-manussanam He is a teacher of gods and humans.
Buddho He is Awakened
bhagava ti and the Blessed One
The Buddha is known as Araham because He is worthy of special veneration by all men, devas and brahmas.
The Buddha is known as Sammasambuddho because He has fully realized all that should be known by Himself.
The Buddha is known as Vijjacaranasampanno because He is proficient in supreme knowledge and in the practice of morality.
The Buddha is known as Sugato because He speaks only what is true and beneficial.
The Buddha is known as Lokavidu because He knows all the three Lokas, namely Satta-Loka, the animate world of living-beings, Sankhara-Loka, the world of conditioned things, and Okasa-Loka, the planes of existences.
The Buddha is known as Anuttaropurisadammasarathi because He is incomparable in taming those who deserve to be tamed.
The Buddha is known as Satta devamanussanam because He is the guiding teacher of all devas, men and brahmas.
The Buddha is known as Buddho because He Himself is the Enlightened One, and He can enlighten others.
The Buddha is known as Bhagava because He is the most exalted One
10: The Ten Perfections (Paramitas)
Truthfulness (or perhaps better translated as honesty)
Some Buddhists believe that there are 108 feelings – 36 in relation to the past, 36 in relation to the present and 36 related to the future. Others believe 108 represents the number of temptations or defilements (Kilesas) that man has to overcome in order to reach nirvana. In Hinduism there are also 108 Upanishads (a collection of philosophical texts) an perhaps the number 108 may have been generally seen as an auspicious number culturally between many peoples in the past. But of course now there are many other interpretations also, and I’ll add new ones as I find them.
Most of us will have seen that person with a Buddha tattoo on her arm or a colourful t-shirt with the Buddha’s face on it. Perhaps even, as we are trying to hold ourselves in the downward dog position, caught the eye of the plastic Buddha statue residing in the corner of some yoga studio. But this is not a rant about the evils of ‘cultural appropriation’, much the opposite, this article will explain that without the cultural appropriation of Buddhism during the many long years since Shakyamuni’s parinirvana, the practice as we know it would not exist today. In fact it might not exist at all. As we shall see, the practice and the outward appearance of that practice are very different things.
Cultural appropriation is exactly how culture works
Perhaps a more realistic view of cultural appropriation is that cultural appropriation is exactly how culture works. Cultures could not evolve and ‘reproduce’ as it were without this drive. Ironically it is sometimes those of us on the left of the political spectrum that complain about cultural appropriation, by confusing notions of reserved as opposed to preserved, they create a space for some strange kind of cultural separatism or reservationism which we would usually expect from the political right. Especially strange when it is argued on behalf of others by the very same people who make the argument for multiculturalism. Of course sometimes the argument is made against a perceived mockery or commodification of one’s own or another’s culture. But in the case of commodification this is happening to all cultures, including the indigenous and dominant cultures of all nations. In a capitalist society every culture is commodified. In terms of mockery it is not always so clear whether there is actual intent to mock, or merely a lack of understanding, and the latter type of person needs latitude to make mistakes as we all do. Outright condemnation is not a teaching aid, as a teacher I know it creates resentment and further barriers in the classroom, so much more so outside of the classroom.
We have become the ‘tools of our tools.’
Under the surface of this seemingly modern phenomena is a very ancient process. Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins coined the term meme in his book The Selfish Gene, in order to describe the similarity between the way cultural concepts reproduce, and genes. Culture spreads almost like a virus, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just means that cultures have no life of their own without a host, in this case the people who live out those cultures and give them life, and the human mind itself which is the real stage and theatre of culture. Then much like a virus it would seem their chief purpose is to replicate their own information, being subject to a kind of natural selection as they go about this process. Bearing in mind that memes can be good or bad, useful in one situation and useless or downright harmful in another, and because we are mainly unaware of these forces as we go about or lives there is the potential, in the words of Henry David Thoreau, for us to become ‘the tools of our tools’. This goes for culture, ideology and even technology, since we both shape these things in our image and are shaped by them in turn, through a kind of symbiotic reciprocity.
Susan Blackmore has posited the term temes to describe technological memes specifically, and if we think of technological concepts as memes we could consider that if it were not for appropriation, other countries would not develop technologically (although some may make the argument of relativity here, in terms of what constitutes technologically developed, yet it would be rather spurious in this context), because specific technologies can be highly cultural specific, think of British engineering and the industrial revolution. Think of aqueducts and roads built and spread around Europe by the Romans, ideas and valuable infrastructure that didn’t completely disappear when the empire receded and eventually collapsed under its own weight. Think of technologies invented by one civilisation and perfected by another. I also feel it would be a sad world if I couldn’t enjoy artwork and food from other cultures because I didn’t originally come from that culture, nor would I be able to play the blues on my guitar to express that sadness. Even sadder if a child from Mexico couldn’t get an organ transplant because the technology required to carry it out is deemed to be culturally protected within the country or nation in which it was first developed. It would then seem to me that an important question arises regarding the development and ownership of medicines within the multinational pharmaceutical industry, but that is a question for another article.
Now coming back to the rather highly memetic images of the Buddha, we have to remember they are just that, images, they are not meant to be commodities, although for many this is all they are, nor are they meant to be pretty ornaments, but as we all know intentions can go astray. For Buddhists, they are there to represent respect and as devices to aid memory and practice. Unfortunately, even for those who practice Buddhism, the spectre of commodity can creep in unnoticed, for when we don’t bear this in mind, it is then that images gain a life of their own. Commodity is a very powerful meme indeed. In this respect I’m thinking of French philosopher Baudrillard and his anecdote regarding the ‘Iconoclasts’ in his book ‘Simulation and Simulacra’. The Iconoclasts were the supporters of the 8th and 9th century movement in the Catholic Orthodox church that forbade and destroyed iconic images of holy figures. Although I don’t believe in the extremity of such practices, their actions remind us that images of whatever form are not the real thing, in fact they can get in the way, cover up, subvert or hide. Today, more than the 8th century ever had to deal with, we are literally blasted with images every day, images of images, upon images, to the point where we forget what is a representation and what is not. Now as Baudrillard wrote of the ‘Iconolators’ who created and venerated idols, we don’t have to destroy all our images to remember that, but we can live with the reminder of their false and double nature, we can remember that they are an expression of shunyata.
There’s the famous story of a Buddhist monk who, cold and weary from wandering for such a long time, upon arriving at a monastery, used a wooden statue of the Buddha as kindling to warm himself. A resident monk caught him warming himself by its fire and horrified by the sight, shouts at the itinerant monk: ‘you’ve burnt the Buddha!’. Digging in the ashes with a stick the itinerant monk replies, ‘I didn’t find him in here, maybe we should burn the other one,’ as he pointed to an even bigger statue in one corner of the sala. The story reminds us that statues like these are not idols to be worshiped in themselves, neither are they a conduit to transmit prayers like a church to a higher being, since the Buddha is no longer anywhere to be prayed to, since parinirvana is not a place.
Despite this, non-Buddhists can do what they like with Buddha images they own or make since these images are only images and commodities, they never were anything else, they were manufactured for this purpose. It’s up to Buddhists ourselves to respect our images and understand what they represent for us, and although some would disagree, I don’t believe you can disrespect something that’s just an empty image, a reflection of emptiness. Remember the Heart Sutra:
Form is Emptiness and Emptiness is Form. The same is true for Feelings, Perceptions, Volitions and Consciousness
Now that’s all well and good but I’m also aware that having a tattoo of a Buddha on your arm is one thing, and going into a Buddhist Temple and grabbing a Buddha statue in order to break it into pieces is another thing. There’s a certain level of responsibility that one should bare which would help if you are a non-Buddhist, to gauge the situation and whether you will deeply offend someone or not. The ethics of Buddhism are a situational ethics, that is, the situation and the people involved define what response is appropriate and not a pre-approved dogma to fall back on, in Buddhism actions that bare this in mind are deemed ‘skilful means’. Although, even Buddhism for some has unknowingly become a dogmatic practice, but that is not within the scope of this article. Thus there can be no tribalist left or right politics, we’d have to ask from a perspective once removed from this political false dichotomy and see what tools from both sides would bee appropriate in the present moment, which is why some people mistake Buddhism for being leftist and sometimes even on the right- it is neither. When reading the sutras, you will see again and again in the Buddha’s interactions with mendicants, merchants, housewives and Kings, that the Buddha ways up each interaction and response based on clear awareness of the situation with skillful means. I think therefore understanding should be given to those that misunderstand Buddhist traditions, especially for those that wish to become Dharma practitioners themselves but perhaps weren’t born in a country with those traditions.
It’s hard to cut through the images fired at us everyday in modern life, like layers of rotten bark and find, in the parlance of Ajahn Chah ‘heartwood’
In contrast, I was recently made aware of the ‘Tao’ nightclub and bistro in Las Vegas, a city not famous for its subtlety. The Asian-themed bistro has scantily-dressed dancers performing in aerial displays, when they aren’t otherwise lounging in glass baths of rose petals. ‘It’s really sacrilegious to put Buddha statues in a dance lounge,‘ Gina Masequesmay, chair of the Cal State Asian American Studies department, said. The bar is surrounded by a large display of carved wooden Buddhist monks in stepped-rows much like you would see in a Buddhist temple, as well as very large Buddhist statues set within stereotypically Asian decor. To get the full idea of the place you could watch one of the many slick promotional videos on YouTube and elsewhere online. While being on the extreme end of insensitive cultural appropriation, which makes me feel embarrassed and not a little queasy, I also feel there is even a little Dhamma here, a teachable moment. In this hyper-real environment we are reminded that the truth and the teaching does not reside in the objects and the images themselves. How could they, if even placed in this environment with its nightly revellers, bouncers and scantily dressed ladies they have no effect, only as some hyper-real exotica to re-enforce the customers’ sense of being exotic and special themselves. We realise that the practice at core, is invisible, that it can’t be bought or sold like a commodity, only the image can be sold, and frankly, if that is all you want from life then you can keep it. The real sadness of it all is that most people aren’t even aware of this dynamic and chase after phantoms all their life when their hearts are hungry for something more substantial to fill and sustain them. I should know, I was once one of them, perhaps I still am in many respects, it’s hard to cut through the images fired at us everyday in modern life, like layers of rotten bark and find in the parlance of Ajahn Chah ‘heartwood’.
Even today there are people who erroneously state that Westerners can’t be real Buddhists
As a Buddhist I feel the development and spread of Buddhism highlights the positive aspect of what some people term cultural appropriation. Although Buddhism originated in an area now known as Northern India and the Buddha himself was born in Lumbini, a region in modern day Nepal, the practice of Buddhism has spread all over the world. But first it had to travel to Tibet, Sri Lanka, China, Korea, Japan, Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia and Vietnam before making its way to Europe and America (although it can be said it had influenced ancient Greece much sooner). As Buddhism slowly trekked around the world, spread by word of mouth along the Silk route, and carried within manuscripts on the backs of travelling monks and scholars it picked up some of the cultural nuances, superstitions and beliefs that originated in its host countries along the way, for example the shamanic Bon tradition of Tibet, and Shinto in Japan. This is also why we still have Theravada Buddhism which aims to follow the early and original teachings of Buddhism which were protected by the Sri Lankans and Thais to this very day. Mahayana Buddhism came about a little later and is split into Vajrayana (the esoteric tantric version of the Mahayana) which is practiced in Nepal and Tibet, Chan Buddhism in China which most people know as Zen Buddhism in Japan which focuses on meditation and direct experience.
The Buddha never said that his Dharma should be reserved for Indians and Nepalese only
Yet despite this precedent, even today there are people who erroneously state that Westerners aren’t or can’t be real Buddhists because it’s not part of their culture, or that they just can’t understand Buddhism, based on simply nothing more than their ethnic origin. Usually in discussions of this kind the differences in mindset between Westerners and Asians are sited. Personally I think it’s a worn out trope now that Asians are automatically predisposed to group identities as opposed to Western individuality, or that Asians are somehow more spiritual based on nothing more than stereotypes culled from novels and movies as well as the fetishism of Asian culture in the middle of the twentieth century, which even continues to a great extent today, much like the aforementioned Tao restaurant ‘experience’. The Buddha never said that his Dharma should be reserved for Indians and Nepalese only, far from it, he wanted his followers to learn the Dharma inside-out and to protect it for future generations, spreading it around the world. In fact the Buddha himself existed in a cultural melting pot where Jainism and the many forms of proto-Hinduism co-existed. Today many Hindus even worship the Buddha as an Avatar of Vishnu, (another level of appropriation itself) although Buddhists themselves do not believe this and the Buddha himself would have denied the claim to be anything other than human, which is part of what makes Buddhism special and accessible to the many people of the world. Despite this, appropriation of Buddhism into Hinduism is not necessarily a bad thing, it brings the teachings of the Buddha to a wider audience, and if that audience wish to dig a little deeper into the differences between these religions they are free to do so. And yet historically Brahmanistic beliefs have crept into the Buddhist sutras in return which can be seen through the contradicting statements between certain sutras. So this is a point at which there can be some debate over the positives and negatives of cultural appropriation
There are many schools and practices which I haven’t mentioned in their entirety, that could be considered products of cultural appropriation, especially since many of these schools teach a culturally specific form of Buddhism integrating beliefs that were already practiced within those countries, practices not necessarily present in the original teachings. In fact by the time Buddhism traveled to Japan it had gone through the filter of Nepal, Tibet, China, and thus created a particular way of interpreting Buddhism. In fact the Zen patriarch Dogen traveled to China to study Buddhism when he felt that Japan had lost the true spirit of Buddhism, feeling that he could trace the thread back there to retrieve its vitality from an earlier source.
Buddhism all but disappeared in the land where it was born around the mid 1200’s during islamic rule, even though it had already been declining by the twelfth century. And without the earlier appropriation of Buddhism by Sri Lanka and Thailand, Buddhism would not be as well known as it is today, and it could be possible that there would be no real trace of it today apart from a few early artifacts. Originally the teachings were kept alive after the passing of the Buddha through an oral tradition, with a very rigorous method that was cross examined by thousands of monks to check for errors, before being written down much later in the language that had been developed specifically for it, facilitating the communication of its concepts. Thai monks kept their version of the Pali canon and made it a point of pride to visit Sri Lanka to test for errors and differences in each copy of their Tipitaka or ‘Pali Canon’ : the collected teachings in Theravada Buddhism, known as the Tipitaka in Mahayana, translated as the ‘Three Baskets.’ Let me point out that the Tipitaka is huge and would fill a large room in its entirety, much as the whole of the unabridged Bible and gospels addendums and appendices fill libraries within the Vatican, so this is no easy task. Even the official version can fill a large cabinet.
Finally coming back to the present, I am thankful for those countries’ appropriation of Buddhism, just as some might be thankful for the appropriation of systems theory or permaculture in the future. Currently It seems that there is a growing secularisation and aligning of Buddhism with modern psychology and the sciences. And I believe that this could be the early days of a new school of secular and nonsectarian Buddhism which will sit next to the Mahayana and Theravada in future encyclopedias of Buddhism, becoming yet another example of cultural appropriation and mimetic evolution -and I certainly won’t be condemning that.