The Future Western Tradition

Kevin Langdon


At the present time there is a considerable amount of interest in Eastern teachings. Zen, Tibetan, and Theravadan Buddhists have become familiar figures, at least in more urban areas in the West. There are Sufis, practitioners of new varieties of Christianity, Hinduism, and other traditional paths, and all sorts of "new religious movements" with Eastern roots.

But there is a difficulty in trying to work within structures that have evolved in a different culture. It is easy to become entranced by the forms and miss the substance.

However, the traditional teachings that have arrived in Europe and America from the East do contain real substance. There is a need for new forms corresponding to conditions in a new millenium in the Western world, to provide a framework which can accommodate both this substance and the psychology of  human beings in the twenty-first century.

The elements from which a new tradition can, and eventually will, be forged are already present, and as the spiritual traditions have done since time immemorial, they will take up these elements and incorporate them as new forms evolve.

What are these elements?

  1. The scientific method, the crowning achievement of the West and the most powerful antidote to superstition and unquestioning acceptance of beliefs.

  2. The Western tradition of democracy, humane values, and human rights.

  3. Recognition of the importance and fragility of natural systems and efforts to preserve and protect them.

  4. A new sensibility in music, with a depth of feeling not often seen in the West since the Baroque period. For many people today, the clearest taste of the sacred comes through this music.

  5. A deep distrust of received wisdom and popular beliefs, expressed in the form of irreverence and sardonic humor. And, paradoxically, it is through irreverence that many sensitive people in the West are best able to approach a genuine reverence for the enormity and order of the world (metaphysics aside), other beings, and the best in themselves.

  6. Directness. Telling it like it is, regardless of social convention.

  7. An appreciation of a child's freedom from external structure and the persistence of play and exuberant animal spirits into adulthood. Peter Pan was right.

How will these elements become incorporated into a new tradition? It's too early to say. But they have already penetrated and informed people who approach traditional spiritual teachings today, and, as Bob Dylan put it, it's in the wind.


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