A bright and balmy midsummer evening saw a gathering at Dechen's London book shop on Chepstow Road in Notting Hill for the world book launch of Wisdom in Exile: Buddhism and Modern Times. Lama Jampa was introduced at the event as one of the most eminent Western teachers of Buddhism today, having studied with some of the greatest Tibetan masters of the 20th and 21st century and having been given by them permission to teach. At the same time as an Englishman steeped in Western culture, art, and history both ancient and modern, Lama Jampa is uniquely well placed to assess Buddhism's progress in the West, around 150 years since its first appearance here, and a mere fifty years since the arrival of its Tibetan forms.
Lama Jampa began by explaining the origin and formation of Wisdom in Exile, and the way in which it differed from his other, more traditional works. He went on to speak about the space which has apparently opened up for Buddhism in the West, a space which has appeared due to the decline of its abiding spiritual system – Christianity – and due to the failure of the world views which replaced it to fill the spiritual void left by the slow departure of the old religious and spiritual forms. These new views in particular may be summarized as all-consuming political ideologies on the one hand and on the other as 'scientism', the non-evidenced based offshoot of scientific practice that permeates our modern view of the world and of the nature of human beings.
When our assumptions are let go of, and it is properly recognised and understood for what it really is, Buddhism provides a response to our spiritual malaise that avoids both the eternalism of Christianity and the nihilism of materialism, both being views which don't, in the final analysis, stand up to reason and experience.
In order to provide some means to avoid the temptation of assimilating Buddhism to the prevailing and transient views of our day, Lama Jampa sets out in his book the Buddhist path just as it is: a subtle, profound, and all-embracing outlook on reality and sentient beings, which contains some perhaps surprising responses to the questions western culture puts in its way. Wisdom in Exile constitutes a modern defence of the timeless wisdom and grounded compassion set forth by the Buddha two and a half millennia ago.
To conclude, Lama Jampa took questions on subjects such as the latter-day discomfort with words such as “spiritual” and “religious”, the perception of Buddhist values such as compassion as “soft” - and therefore ultimately unserious, the potentially off-putting excesses of nominally religious individuals in positions of power, and finally on how Buddhism might best aid a healing of the rifts in our society that can arise when different religions and cultures attempt to live alongside each another.
The livestream of the full talk and the Question and Answer session is available now to stream on Dechen London's Facebook page.
Wisdom in Exile: Buddhism and Modern Times is available in hardback from amazon.co.uk and dechen.org/books. It is also available as an ebook from amazon.co.uk and amazon.com, and will be published in the United States in hardback on 6th July.