Saturday, November 14, 2015

"Buddhist Romanticism" by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Most do not yet realize it, but a defining moment in the history of the coming of the Dharma to the West has just occurred, with the publication of Thanissaro Bhikkhu's treatise Buddhist Romanticism.

In this treatise, Thanissaro discusses how Buddhism has been filtered through the "Dharma Gate" of Romanticism in Europe, the Americas, and elsewhere--just as Buddhism was filtered  through the Dharma Gate of Daoism when it came to China in the first few centuries of our era.

Thanissaro argues that many of the ideas popularly associated with Buddhism in the West, such as the oneness of all things, naturalness and spontaneity, following one's own inner genius, artistic self-expression, relativism, and the notion that religion needs to evolve to reflect changing social conditions, are actually ideas from the Romantic movement, many of which are incompatible with the teachings of the Buddha.

Thanissaro's treatise contains a patient and informative (and intellectually charitable) explanation of the early history of the Romantic movement, with a focus on its development among a clique of German intellectuals and artists in late 18th century Jena. Among other things, he explains how the Romantics regarded the modern novel (Roman) as the highest form of artistic expression, because it focused on the inner life of its characters, in a way that was less suited to other artistic media, such as epic poetry or tragedy. In this way, Thanissaro's work is a useful reference with regards to the history of ideas, as well as containing important insights into how the Romantic worldview continues to shape Western culture and the Western adoption of Buddhism.
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