Buddhist Practice on Western Ground

By Jeffrey Miller, The Korea Times Feature Writer, May 14, 2005

Author: Harvey B. Aronson, Ph.D.
Shambhala, 2004; 253 pages

Seoul, South Korea -- There was a time when Dharma meditative practices for most Westerners who had tapped into Eastern Philosophy were laced with the smell of burning incense, sitar music, yoga and other pop baggage and flotsam.

However, as more and more Westerners over the years have embraced Buddhism for spiritual development, many practitioners of Buddhism also soon discovered its therapeutic value. As such, while meditation has always allowed one to get in touch with the fundamental basic nature of one's inner self, some of these practitioners also embraced its therapeutic value in helping them overcome personal problems.

Inasmuch as Buddhism and meditation might offer one tools for ``profound spiritual development,'' according to Dr. Harvey B. Aronson, Buddhism may not always address deeper psychological concerns of most Westerners. However, in his illuminating study of Buddhism from a Western perspective, ``Buddhist Practice on Western Ground: Reconciling Eastern Ideals and Western Psychology,'' Aronson offers a comprehensive and sympathetic examination of the differences between Eastern and Western cultural and spiritual values as well as how meditation can be a useful tool for therapy.

As a long-time Buddhist practitioner and professor, Aronson possesses a deep personal knowledge of how the practice is used, and sometimes misused, by Westerners. Aronson captures this by providing a very interesting and illuminating cross-cultural perspective, by picking up both the strengths and weaknesses of Buddhism as well as how it has been both transplanted and translated from Asia to the West. Realizing the value of both Buddhist philosophy and meditation, Aronson offers readers a unique and invaluable perspective on the way Buddhist teachings are recruited to one's individual neuroses or how these teachings can be integrated into one's daily life.

He presents a constructive and practical assessment of common conflicts experienced by Westerners who might have looked to Eastern spiritual traditions for guidance and support, only to find themselves more confused or even disappointed. He illustrates the fundamental vision of Buddhism as well as a cross-cultural and psychological reflection that is respective of both cultures. At the same time, he raises important questions and provides helpful insights about some of the pitfalls that can occur when Eastern and Western cultures come together.

He limits his focus to four central themes in Buddhist teachings _ self, anger, love, and attachment _ which have different interpretations and psychological correlates in Western thought. He closely examines the cultural differences inherent in each of these central Buddhist teachings and shows among other things how individuals can tap into the spiritual development if they can reconcile the cultural differences. For example, he discusses Western culture's emphasis on individuality versus the Asian emphasis on interdependence and fulfillment of duties, and the Buddhist teachings on no-self or egolessness. His thorough and insightful investigation of these differences provides readers with a better understanding of how Dharma practices can be successfully integrated into our lives.

In this seminal analysis of Buddhism in Western thought, Aronson has a lot of wisdom to share that will help Western Dharma practitioners establish a healthy and clear foundation for achieving spiritual growth. To be sure, his insightful comments and personal anecdotes about the spiritual journey will be helpful to everyone, regardless of their tradition and religion who seek not only a more profound spiritual development, but also to help them overcome their own problems.

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