Only In The West, Only In Asia
Different Cultures, Different Views Many Westerners don’t understand or appreciate the old Buddhist texts or teachings. They are very different from Asian culture and history. They find it hard to relate to them.
Let me give you an example. This is a picture and story of a bidet (a device that sprays water to clean your private parts after using the toilet).
A monk friend showed me his new bidet that he was going to install in his bathroom. I was curious and asked if I could take a picture of it.
“Sure. Why do you want to do that?” he asked.
“(Giggle). In the West, people use this kind of sprayer for washing dishes in the kitchen.” He made a disgusted face and we both laughed.
Sometimes, different cultures have different ways of doing things that seem strange or wrong to others. Using a bidet in the kitchen would be like using a toilet brush for washing dishes. It just doesn’t make sense and it’s gross. That’s how an Asian person feels about how Westerners use a sprayer. They can’t imagine it. So if someone told them that this is how they wash dishes, they would reject it right away, like my monk friend did with his face.
In the same way, many Westerners criticize the Buddhist commentaries and teachings that explain the old scriptures. They may think some things are not logical or true, but they are based on an ancient culture and time that is very different from ours. It is hard to judge fairly, especially for a Westerner who lives far away in time and space.
Contrary, many Westerners criticize the Buddhist Commentaries and Abhidhamma which are the footnote explanations for the Suttas. While some points may seem counter-intuitive, they were based on a time and culture over 2000 years ago. It is hard to judge impartially, especially for a Westerner who grew up and lives very far away in time and space.
And this is just about modern devices. The old scriptures talk about “Water Pots For Toilets” and Western people think they are for flushing toilets, but there were no flush toilets back then. They think, “Oh this is for flushing the toilet,” even though there were no flush toilets in the forest monasteries. They were used for the same purpose as mentioned above with a water bowl and smaller bucket used inside which is still used in Asia today. We have monk rules about how the water bowl should be stored upside down so it won’t collect water and rust or get moldy (if plastic). So it is easy to make mistakes, especially for Westerners. That is why the Westerners and Modern Asians are quick to incorrectly judge the commentaries.
Enlightenment and nonself are counter-intuitive too. They go against our natural tendencies. That is why many Westerners like the content mentioned in Ajahn Mun’s Biography. The Thai Forest Traditions, which worship this book as a “bible” to monkhood seem to be the only thing in town for Buddhism in the West. This book helps one believe that an Arahant or even previous Buddhas exists after death with a “citta” that can never be destroyed, which is clearly wrong view according to proper Theravada Buddhism and more inline with Mahayana and Vedanta. Those official “scholarly” writings on the subject in English are often from Thai influenced monks. Westerners in general just don’t understand that the “self” is really a “nonself” because it is made of materiality, feeling, perception, volitional formations, and consciousness which are continually arising and perishing moment by moment at incredibly fast speeds. There is no self and when the fuel runs out for those who are fully enlightened, nothing arises again. Nothing.