The Crumbling Buddhist Consensus: Preface

Yikes! Buddhist history is moving faster than I expected.

A couple years ago, I noticed that the Mainstream Western Buddhist Consensus had started to crumble at the edges. Younger teachers broke out of the rigid psychotherpeutically-correct Nice Buddhism model, and some senior Western teachers who had been pushing it for 15 years were starting, tentatively but publicly, to question it.

That was exciting, because I think the enforced consensus has been a Really Bad Thing. I predicted that this would accelerate and burst into the open in a couple of years.

So I started writing a book about it. (You can take the boy out of academia, but you can’t take academia out of the boy.) Fascinating as I found this subject, though, it seemed less important than the other two books I was writing. So all I have so far is a pile of half-baked notes and scattered thoughts.

It now appears that the “Maha Teachers Council” may be the venue where the creators of the Consensus are strategizing about their problem.  (Hat tip: NellaLou, who discusses this in detail in her Buddhist blog.) Their conference is happening right now, and it’s going to be written up in the Fall 2011 issue of Buddhadharma magazine.

So, if I’m going to write about this usefully, it has to be now. Instead of a carefully-researched book, I am going to do a blog series: a big brain dump of semi-digested ideas, odd facts, and wild-assed guesses.

I don’t like that. I don’t want to mislead anyone, so I like to check all my facts carefully, survey the existing literature exhaustively, search for alternative explanations, and make sure my arguments are completely coherent. There isn’t time for that, so I am going to attempt to blog with reckless abandon, and clean up the mess later if need be. I apologize in advance for the certainty that I will get some things wrong.

The crumbling Western Buddhist consensus is a politically sensitive topic. I will suggest that some people have done some bad things. It’s especially important to get your facts straight when doing that—and this has been the main reason I have held off on writing about this before.

From the start, I want to be clear that I do not and will not condemn any individual or group. Everyone has mixed good and bad motivations, but I think that the creation and enforcement of the Consensus was mainly misguided rather than an evil plan for world domination.


Author: David Chapman

Author of the book Meaningness and several Buddhist sites.

5 thoughts on “The Crumbling Buddhist Consensus: Preface”

  1. I guess I question if there ever really was anything resembling consensus. How do you measure consensus? The books being published? The podcasts being produced? Not just Shambhala Sun and Tricycle I hope.

  2. Well, yes, I think there was (and still mostly is) a “mainstream” consensus about various things. I’ll spell that out in the upcoming page where I define what the consensus was. Examples: consensus Western Buddhism is—supposedly—egalitarian, democratic, anti-hierarchy, ecumenical, accepts all religious traditions (except of course Bad forms of Buddhism), respects and sometimes incorporates psychotherapy, is ecologically aware, talks about social justice, promotes internal and external peace, etc.

    Does that make it clearer what consensus I’m talking about? (Maybe I need to clarify the page?)

    Of course, some people have always been outside the consensus; but they were marginal. Sometimes just obscure, but also sometimes deliberately marginalized.

    “How do you measure” is an excellent question, which I don’t expect to address. It’s one of the many kinds of fact-checking that I have to omit if I’m going to get this series written in time for it to be useful.

  3. @ Harri — yes, I’ve had “cultural hegemony” in mind throughout writing this series. I’ve avoided using the term because it may be unfamiliar to most readers. But that describes exactly what I think the Consensus has tried to accomplish, with partial success.

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