A fascinating article, based on the premise that validity of canon isn't the only criterion for assessing a story:
... the Arthurian legends work so well and have survived the centuries because they eschew a strict canonical structure. The writers of each period adapted the character to the as necessary to fit the stories they wanted to tell. Often these myths were a means of sharing oral history or a way to celebrate a tribe, clan, or country.
This actually got me thinking about some of the notes I've put down here about the Buddhist "canon", which I put into quotes mostly as a way to showing that it too has a fluidity determined at least as much by the times and manners as by anything else. The Buddha that was brought to Korea and Japan was not the historical Buddha, but the historical Buddha might well not be the historical Buddha either.
In the same way, the Buddha brought to the West and the United States is unlike all of those as well. We don't tend to think of him as an idol to be worshipped or a god to be enshrined, but rather as a distant figure of saintly wisdom, and while I think that is no more accurate than any of the previous interpretations, the fact of those changes is plain.
My feeling is that the Buddha that best suits the West is still being worked out. We get the Buddha, or the god, or whatever variety of spiritual figure we deserve, and right now the Buddha we're getting mostly seems to be one that's a by-product of our fascination with the scientization of wisdom.
This is not to say that studying such things scientifically is bad — but rather that wisdom is not something you can reduce to a formula, and that studying Buddhism isn't something you do just to find it easier to cope with stress at work or learn how to deal with assholes at the grocery store. It's something you study because it's worth studying, and the idea of something having a non-utilitarian merit is still kinda alien to a lot of us. The idea of entering into something like that entirely for its own sake sets some peoples' teeth on edge. It reminds them too much of the sort of formal commitment others make to a Religion with a cap R.
My feeling is that there's a good middle ground — one where the Buddha's insights are directly implementable in a modern context, and where the modern context is used as just that, a context, instead of an adulteration. Gombrich and Warner and a few other folks seem to have a good sense of what this might be like: one where you don't really need the trappings and the ceremony (which the Buddha thought of as superfluous anyway), but where the insights themselves, and the implementations of those insights, are held in the highest esteem.
Now, briefly, back to the original conceit of the article: "Writers should be free to tell the most interesting stories possible with those characters, not be encumbered by decades of canon and our modern, often artificial, expectations." The thing is, aren't we already doing that? Frank Miller's Batman, Superman: Year One, the endless What If?s ... there's already a strain of this sort of thing in comics (and in places beyond that) that is quite alive and well. The core canon remains mostly as a way to keep a regular succession of readers roped in, and I agree that it becomes too limiting at times: just keeping track of everything that's happened is a headache unto itself. But we get this sort of thing more often than it might seem; do we just need to drum up more attention to it?
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