Local author publishes new book on Buddhism

Posted 1/13/23

Buddhism has become something of a buzzword.

While the mindfulness movement has brought meditation to corporate board rooms, improving productivity seems counterintuitive to at least one …

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Local author publishes new book on Buddhism

Posted

Buddhism has become something of a buzzword.

While the mindfulness movement has brought meditation to corporate board rooms, improving productivity seems counterintuitive to at least one practitioner of one of the world’s largest religions.

“It’s just a way of co-opting Buddhism and turning it into something that American corporations and sciences will understand. And, unfortunately, because corporate logic and scientific logic are very, very, very familiar to most Americans, it’s an easy sell to a lot of people. But I don’t think it’s Buddhism and I think that’s a shame,” said Curtis White, author of the new book “Transcendent: Art and Dharma in a Time of Collapse.”

White is the author of eight novels and has had an extensive career as a literary and cultural critic. He has also been on the path of Buddhism in one way or another since the early 1980s when he first began visiting the famed San Francisco Zen Center.

“I won’t even say that I am a Buddhist because I don’t know what it means to say, ‘I am a Buddhist.’ The phrase seems to me to be self-contradictory: Too much ‘I’ and too much ‘it,’” White writes in the prologue to his new book.

Despite his hesitation to place a name on his practice, he has spent many decades distilling it.

“The more books I read, the more interesting it seemed to me,” White said in an interview with The Leader.

Within his new book’s pages he explores everything from secular Buddhism to punk rock and the counterculture.

“What I say about the Western arts is that they provide a gate — a flourishing gate, a gate that still exists, and hopefully will exist for a very long time to come. It’s how we enter Buddhism; it’s what seems familiar to us in Buddhism. Not science, not corporate stress reduction, but the sense of the spirit that we have in the arts,” White said.

While he’s very clear to state that he is not a “Dharma teacher,” he has for years written essays for Tricycle, the world’s largest Buddhist publication.

“Even my fiction at times will be influenced by my experience in Buddhism. But it’s only in the last 10 years that I’ve gotten serious about piecing together a practice and a more comprehensive understanding of what Buddhism is,” White said.

He’s a member of the local Port Townsend Sangha, a group of meditators who get together regularly to listen to talks on Buddhism and related subjects before spending time in silence together.

“It’s nice to be around people who are supportive of the thing that is important to you, and then you try to as much as possible to be inclusive, to get more people into it,” White said.

Ever a critic, however, he is self-reflexive enough to turn that lens on himself and his community.

“I think it’s a terrible problem with American Buddhism at this point: It kind of looks like and may actually be a kind of class privilege. It’s sort of a very white, rather prosperous demographic that is attracted to Buddhism at this time. And that seems to me to be very unfortunate.”

Copies of “Transcendent” will be available at Imprint Bookstore in Port Townsend starting Jan. 17 and there will be a book launch party on that date at Elliot Bay Books in Seattle.

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