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The Gods Drink Whiskey by Stephen T. Asma


This book is a series of essays inspired by the American author's time in Cambodia. The author is a professor of Buddhist studies and had taken a position at a Cambodian university.

He writes that many Westerners romanticize Eastern cultures, especially the officially Buddhist Eastern cultures, despite having never lived in or even visited one. Western liberals and New Age types like to complain about Western materialism, but try living in a country like Cambodia on the median wage of 50 cents per day ... you'll quickly miss your daily hot showers, flush toilets, microwave ovens, refrigerators, access to modern health care, civil liberties, and traffic laws.

He also writes that most of the officially Buddhist people in these officially Buddhist countries know very little about what Buddha actually taught. He says that the trappings of Buddhism in Cambodia are as unrelated to Buddha as the trappings of American Christmas are unrelated to Jesus. Imagine worshipping Frosty the Snowman as a god in the United States and you'll have some idea what Buddhism is like in Cambodia ;-)

I find this critique especially interesting because I've often read highminded criticisms of Western Buddhists that complain we Westerners don't know anything about real Buddhism as it is practiced in the East. Well, Dr. Asma says that Easterners don't know anything about real Buddhism either ;-)

Not that most Christians know anything about real Christianity. When I take the time to read the Gospels I don't recognize anybody I've ever known who called themselves "Christian".

Which makes me wonder whether most Muslims know anything about real Islam. Or whether most Jewish people really know anything about the Torah. It seems like most religious identities are really just social identities having nothing at all to do with the presumed teachings of the prophet/messiah/teacher/God who is worshipped. No matter which teachings you claim to follow, you're still subject to human nature, all the human emotions, pleasure and pain, aging and death. Nobody is special, chosen, or holy. We're just folks, all of us.


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