What does the Dharma offer the West?

I spent 10 years engaged in exploration of the spiritual, religious and cultural traditions of the East, including six years as a Buddhist monk. The privilege of listening, reflecting and meditating upon a range of teachings served as the backbone for a transmission of teachings from East to West.

View from my loft in Totnes, Devon, England.

Long-standing traditions often lead to a conservative approach, even if the teachings themselves encourage liberation from restrictive formations from the past.

Rather than adapting to the Western values of capitalism, consumerism and individualism, the Dharma can challenge these destructive ideologies and their global impact. The same teachings and practices can show practical ways for inner transformation.


1.      Give teachings and practices on emptiness of self/ego-existence to transform personal, social and political views to show wisdom and kindness.

2.      Recognise Buddha-Dharma in the West will benefit from other disciplines. These include psychology, yoga, mind-body work, advaita (non-duality) and complementary medicine.

3.      Expand the concept of Sangha. Buddhist countries refer to the Sangha as the Order of Monks. In the West, the Sangha comprises of all Dharma practitioners, ordained, householders and those living a nomadic existence.

4.      To address abuse of power, warfare and harmful corporate behaviour.

5.      To endorse a vegetarian/vegan diet out of compassion for animals, birds and fish, and for personal health.

6.      To develop communities/networks of friendships.

7.      Give priority to dana (donations), to enable low-income groups to join retreats, courses and trainings.

8.      Apply the Dharma to party politics and non-party politics. Teachings and practices can offer ethical policies, social change and vision.

9.      Encourage practitioners to go to the East to experience India, Thailand and other and Buddhist countries, including monasteries.

10.  Ensure women and men have equal opportunity in every way possible. In Asian monastic systems, men and women live apart from each other. Senior monks in monasteries in the East sit in the front rows with young monks, and women in rows behind. The West can provide an open sitting arrangement. Newly ordained then can benefit from sitting in the front row close to the teacher.

11.  Encourage an in-depth study of discourses of the 10,000 discourses of the Buddha to support daily life.

12.  Ensure the wise use of plant based or chemical based mind-altering substances as part of spiritual experience for the few wishing to know such an experience.

13.  Apply and link the Dharma with the arts such as meditative listening to music (classical, religious, rock, etc), collective Dharma dancing, poetry, sculpture, literature, theatre and other expressions of creativity.

14.  Encourage short ordinations, such as weeks or months, to give a real taste of monastic life and the ethical/spiritual benefits in the long term. The Thai Buddhist tradition offers such an approach to support calm and insight in society.

15.  Endorse the Sangha of teachers/practitioners in the West support mutual development of friendships and intimate relationships, via wise attention.

16.  Promote creation of retreat centres offering a variety of approaches with an emphasis on ethics, mindfulness, meditation and wisdom.

17.  Show the way for the Sangha in the West to address social change, ecology and global issues.

18.  Apply the teachings and practices, inside and outside retreats, through small groups and networks engaged in co-operation.

19.  Ensure diversity of expression between genders, age groups, lifestyles, ethnicities and sexual preferences.

20.  Explore and develop every link in the Noble Eightfold Path rather than emphasise sitting at home for a set period in meditation, morning and evening.

21.  Encourage, support and train teachers and leaders. Support skills of practitioners to facilitate, manage and organise programmes. Encourage teachers to offer creative teachings, not a prescriptive form.

22.  Give support to the full ordination of women as bhikkhunis (nuns) with the same rules and robes as the bhikkhus (monks).

23.  Support protests, demonstrations and campaigns to address major issues and end suffering.

24.  Offer Yatras (pilgrimages) to develop closeness with nature. The Sangha walks for days into the nature along with teachings/practices available for adults and children.

25.  Use the word yogis, as as a name for retreatants of both genders in the West.

26.  Be open to a dual role of ordination/layperson for individual practitioners. For example. Zen priests/monks can wear robes to teach on retreats and practice monastic discipline and then return to being a householder and then wear robes again in teaching/practice environments. Tibetans will put on the robes for ceremonies and pilgrimages and then return to clothes of the householder. This is a non-dual model worthy of attention.

The Dharma does not have to adapt to the West with its consumer ideology and priority given to the self but needs to evolve, expand and show boldness.

The West needs to sit up and take notice of a radically different view of life with wisdom, full awakening and liberation as the priority.

I looked forward to being back in Europe as a servant of the Dharma and to contribute to radical change including staying true to the depth of the teaching.

This is an extract in the closing section of TEN YEARS AND TEN DAYS (3rd edition), first published in 2021 – a memoir of my time in the East from 1967-1977. Published by Amazon worldwide.

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