THE SAGELY CITY OF TEN THOUSAND BUDDHAS
Here I would like to put these phenomena into context: given the spiritual crisis that was manifest, given the split between reason and faith—or science and religion—this interest in Buddhism to a large extent can be seen to be driven by an attempt to reconcile the split. And you may notice that this theme is still with us today. Any bookstore that has an Eastern religions section will carry books discussing the comparisons and correspondences that are being drawn between science and Buddhism, especially in the field of quantum physics. There is still an incredible interest in discovering a way to bridge the gap between religion and science through Eastern religions, particularly Buddhism. To my understanding, Vedanta has a great deal to say about this; this is an area that I am not expert in but would like to know more about.
Many people don't know this, but right after the Chicago Parliament of World Religions took place, a number of people—both the importers of Buddhism (by that I mean Americans such as Sir William Jones, Paul Carus, Ernest Fenolloza, William Sturgis Bigelow, Marie Carnivaro, and Lafcadio Hearn, who was a famous writer at the turn of the century), as well as the exporters (the missionaries of Eastern religions who came here), got together to discuss the situation: "You know, we don't have a level playing field here. We have got all these Protestant missionaries going over to Asia to convert the people 'sitting in darkness'. How about making it a Darwinian, level playing field and throw into the mix Eastern missionaries; we will bring them to America. And may the best religion win!"
Paul Carus (one of the people I was doing research on) was situated in the Chicago area. He had a rich father-in-law who put up money, and they invited over a number of Eastern missionaries, including Anagarika Dharmapala, from what was then Ceylon, now Sri Lanka; Swami Vivekananda, who came over from India representing the Ramakrishna Vedanta movement; and Soyen Shaku, who was a Japanese Buddhist monk, and his disciple D.T. Suzuki. Some of you know D.T. Suzuki because he came over in the 1950's on a Rockefeller grant and became a famous lecturer on Zen at East Coast colleges. Gary Snyder, Jack Kerouac, and Allen Ginsberg were the sort of self-appointed disciples of D.T. Suzuki, but he had a very profound influence on American culture.
During his stay in the U.S. in the 1890's and early 1900's he was only in his 20's; he stayed in a small town called LaSalle Peru, Illinois, for about eleven years with Paul Carus translating Buddhist texts into English and putting out inexpensive paperback editions. These exporters who came, as well as the importers who brought the Easterners, all shared the same modern, scientific outlook. What's interesting is that they translated Buddhism into a medium and a message that would be very compatible and resonant with the Zeitgeist, the spirit of the Age, which was scientific. They selectively chose passages of text and selectively organized the Buddhist teachings in such a way as to appeal to the modern sensibilities, which was scientifically oriented. This is very important. Why did they do that? Well, the Americans really wanted whatever it was to make sense. And how do we make sense of Buddhism? Our way of making sense then was through science, and science is still our way of making sense of things.
Just look at any television ad; someone will say, "...nine out of ten studies show..."; "...researchers have found..." We bow to it; it's almost a reflex. We don't critically look at it then because the arbiter of truth—science—has presented evidence. We ask that all things make sense; that they ultimately come back to the same common denominator. This has been true now for over 150 years, and remains increasingly so.
Thus, the American importers wanted to make sense out of it, and so they tried to present Buddhism as something other than a superstitious, mythological religion like Christianity had been and Darwin was destroying through what was called "higher criticism." Not only the importers of Buddhism, but the exporters too said, "How are we going to make it acceptable to Americans?" And so Dharmapala and D.T. Suzuki and Vivekananda saw very clearly that Americans believed in science, and they knew from their own knowledge of Buddhism that there was no problem of a gap between religion and science in terms of the Buddhist and Hindu traditions. Buddhism and Hinduism could embrace science very easily. So they focused on that, and Buddhism became immensely understandable and appealing to Americans.
What I want to discuss in the second part of this lecture is the problem with that. Other subjects were used as well, for example, Christianity. Americans at that time were primarily Christian or Judeo-Christian, so how do you get Buddhism to make sense to them? You render Buddhist terms into Christian terminology. For example, you compare Christ to the Buddha or to Bodhisattvas. The Buddha had a group of followers; so did Jesus. He worked miracles; so did Jesus. Jesus walked on water; well, the Buddha did that while meditating—about the same thing. It goes on and on—text after text after text of comparisons.
Paul Carus himself put out a book—his first book—called, The Gospel of Buddha. Later we have The Buddhist Bible. Now in Asia there is no Buddhist Gospel, and there is no Buddhist Bible. There are Sutras, an immense body of texts. But those texts have never been condensed into a single volume. That was done in order to make Buddhism more compatible to Americans. This is one of the formats. So I am going to focus on the science aspect. Where were the similarities they saw between Buddhism and science? They were everywhere. One was the notion of the acceptability of evolution—everything was evolutionary once Darwin made his hit. Well, things matched very nicely with the notion of karma. A cyclical unfolding of events governed by the law of cause and effect.