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It is better not to distort things with our limited interpretations at all, but if we have to, then at least we should be more aware of how powerful and one-sided our interpretations can be. For example, I could claim all kinds of things about the way that Westerners approach the study of Eastern cultures. I could easily put forward an interpretation, one that might seem entirely valid, that claims Western conceptual frameworks stem from a basic attitude of arrogance in the way that they construct themselves and others.

In almost all departments in Western universities that allegedly teach Buddhism, the teachers usually have to hide the fact if they happen to be Buddhists themselves. Do the mathematics teachers hide the fact that they believe in the logic of mathematics? Western scholars need to be more questioning about their own rigid biases that prevent them from being able to appreciate other perspectives. I find heartbreaking the imperialist attitude that arrogantly isolates one aspect of Eastern culture, analyzing it at a careful distance, manipulating and sterilizing it to fit Western agendas, and then perhaps concluding that it is now suitable for consumption.

Another example of the hypocrisy involved with this kind of attitude is the Western "benevolent" wish to "liberate" Eastern women from the clutches of what is imagined to be the oppressive tyranny of a misogynist system, resembling the Western missionaries wanting natives to adopt Christian morals and values. In the West, amongst other things, women are photographed naked and the pictures are published in magazines. Many other cultures would regard this as exceedingly embarrassing, as well as extremely exploitative and oppressive of women. So from their point of view, Western criticism of another culture for its subjugation of women is a highly contentious matter.

Surely no culture should claim to have the deep appreciation and understanding necessary to produce a thorough and justified critique of an important aspect of another's culture (especially when the topic is as sophisticated and complex as Buddhism) without having the humility to make the effort to accurately and deeply learn about that topic on that culture's own terms.

Sometimes it might help Westerners to develop more respect and appreciation for the East if they remember that 3,000 years ago, when the East was flourishing with philosophy, arts, languages and medicine, the Western natives still didn't have the idea to brush their own teeth! And in many cultures' perspectives, so-called Western science and technology has not really done much besides destroying the world's resources. Ideas such as democracy and capitalism, as well as equality and human rights, can be seen to have failed miserably in the West, and to be nothing but new dogmas.

I find it difficult to see the advantage of incorporating these limited Western value systems into an approach to the dharma. These certainly do not constitute the extraordinary realization Prince Siddhartha attained under the Bodhi tree 2,500 years ago. The West can analyze and criticize Tibetan culture, but I would be so thankful if they could have the humility and respect to leave the teachings of Siddhartha alone, or at least to study and practice them thoroughly before they set themselves up as authorities.


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