Education About Asia: Online Archives

Teaching Indian Buddhism with Siddhartha—or Not?

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In teaching the perspectives of the Asian religious traditions, I am involved daily in the process of observing, interpreting, and explaining the thinking of one culture to people whose minds have been molded by the world view of quite a different culture. In structuring this process, one of the most important tasks is choosing texts that work to form bridges between a primarily (broadly speaking) American way of seeing, and either an Indian, Japanese, or Chinese perspective. To this end, I am always looking for writing that will create links sufficiently clear to allow American readers to grasp new paradigms while scrupulously maintaining the integrity of the Asian conceptions.

In more than twelve years of this continual search, however, I have sometimes discovered writing which, under the guise of presenting an Asian perspective, presents instead something more congruent with the author’s own cultural and perhaps religious values. Such writings appear to create bridges and links, but they, in fact, superimpose their own culturally defined world views onto that of a particular Asian tradition. Most often, a uniquely Indian or Chinese perspective is subtly refashioned into a variant of a Judeo-Christian model, sounding quite plausible and even intriguing but no longer Indian or Chinese. In addition, precisely because these newly fashioned “Asian” perspectives have such a “familiar ring” to them, an American audience finds these presentations “clear” and “easy to grasp”; they have seduced both author and reader into thinking that real insight into Buddhist or Hindu perception has been achieved.