daverupa wrote:I don't think so; rebirth and metaphysical retribution is liable to drive away secular and materialist inquirers, in my experience.
And teaching that great effort is required for enlightenment is liable to drive away lazy inquirers, while I'm sure an emphasis on the Buddha's disdain for the Caste system is likely to drive away bigoted and ethnocentric inquirers. Hell, if we wanted to, we could stop emphasizing the unwholesomeness of violence or sexual misconduct in order to make Buddhism more attractive to the violent and promiscuous inquirer!
I'm not, of course, comparing materialism with racism or brutality; I'm simply pointing out that the best way to destroy the core integrity of any movement or philosophy is to worry too much about making it palatable. The question is not, "What can we take out of the Dhamma in order to make it more appealing to those who hold ideas in opposition to it," but instead, "What can we take out of the Dhamma that still leaves an effective vehicle for liberation?"
Buddhism is not a secular or materialist philosophy, so why are we surprised that an accurate portrayal of its teachings scares away secularists and materialists?
In my opinion, many figures in Western Buddhism, most of them lay teachers as opposed to monastics, have been trying far, far too hard to neuter any and all elements of the Dhamma that might ever make anyone uncomfortable. In most popular Dha(r/m)ma books or lectures you'll hear today, there's no talk about rebirth, no talk about the horrible karmic consequences of violence or promiscuity or intoxication, no talk about real non-self, and no talk about anything that could be considered even vaguely offensive to the secular or New Age tastes of those in attendance. Instead, the emphasis is on "interconnectedness"
and self-affirmation. And I'm sure it gets more people to show up and even maybe more people to spend some time on the cushion. But in the end, we're not doing anyone any favors by taking out the parts of the Dhamma that challenge our unwholesome ways or refuse to give us easy comfort.
A monk I spoke to once said that truth and happiness were buried treasures, and unless one was focused on one particular spot to dig, he or she wouldn't get anywhere. "Spiritual tourism," he said, was like digging a few holes around the spot and hoping their depths all add up to one very deep hole, while this neutered, New Age spirituality was like digging one small hole and then convincing yourself you found the treasure when the ground starts getting hard. He cautioned that while the former leads just to disappointment, the latter is even more dangerous; while the former goes away frustrated, the latter rushes out to start writing checks based on the cash they think they have! This is the danger of making the Dhamma palatable at the expense of its core message: It creates a web of self-affirmation and comfort that tricks people, a warm and fuzzy blanket that won't hold up against the cold winds of reality. If we have real compassion and real concern for propagating that Dhamma that we most revere, we won't just take out the parts that are real bummers for those who aren't interested, any more than a biology professor would see his lab volunteers dwindling and say, "Well, I guess it's time to stop asking that my students accept evolution."
I'm sorry if this seems like a tangent or a rant, but I think it relates to the core issue of how we can balance the core truths of the Dhamma, even when they are diametrically opposed to modern American sensibilities, with an approach that is gentle enough to get the truth out to people without scaring them away - and this entire discussion about the importance of rebirth for modern practitioners is at the heart of such a struggle. I don't claim to know the answer, mind you, but I have no problem saying that too many of us have gone too far in one direction at the expense of the Buddha's noble dispensation.
Just my thoughts.
Gain and loss, status and disgrace,
censure and praise, pleasure and pain:
these conditions among human beings are inconstant,
impermanent, subject to change.
Knowing this, the wise person, mindful,
ponders these changing conditions.
Desirable things don’t charm the mind,
undesirable ones bring no resistance.
His welcoming and rebelling are scattered,
gone to their end,
do not exist.
- Lokavipatti Sutta
Stuff I write about things.