Dharma is timeless, always just so. Its characteristics non-contingent. Its functions not limited to a particular time, place, situation, or culture. Dharma needs no reinventing. If anything, it invites a re/discovery which can only happen by and through awakening. Therefore, Dharma is also a practice, as well as a path.

Buddhisms are historical and situational. Timebound, juxtaposed to society and culture. More so with Buddhist institutions, lineages, authorities and experts, organizational forms, norms of devotion and morality, yogic and ritual practices, philosophy, religiosity etc. Buddhisms are channels and grooves for Dharma. At best, they give provisional expression to dharmic functions in the context of a culture, a situation, namely time and place. However, they are also depositories or sedimentations of achievements and failures, both individual and collective, in serving not just Dharma, but also perennial human needs, some of which are inimical to the practice of Dharma.

People East and West, including students of Dharma, often struggle with Buddhism, its varied forms, divergent norms, and inherent tensions, mistaking them for the actual practice and path of Dharma. Some are quite happy with their Buddhism, replacing one conformist convention with another. Others argue that their Buddhism needs to change and adapt to time and place, which usually happens anyway. Meanwhile, practitioners follow their particular form or yana, with its distinct internal logic, often unaware of other Buddhist yanas. Whether Buddhism needs reinventing is a matter of opinion – not to mention power, passion, knowledge, and skill. Very few are qualified, equipped, or positioned to do so. In addition, it remains to be seen whether any spiritual tradition can stabilize a non-dysfunctional development in existing conditions.

Consider the complexity of music. First, there’s the innate sensitivity to rhythm and melody, an appreciation both somatic and aesthetic. There’s also musical education with its many levels from beginning to expert, whether do-it-yourself or academic: theory, practice, notes and pitches, scales and patterns, beats and tempo, measure and metre, tones and microtones, tuning and notations, solfeggio, training for voice and instruments, classical and contemporary etc. Then there’s composition, a vast dimension in itself, with arrangement, interpretation, and improvisation. Then there’s the market, the “industry” with agents and managers and publishers and il/legal sharing and streaming services, easy and difficult music with many genres and niches, the performance arena with concerts and tours, stardom and fandom, discophiles and audiophiles in high-end music reproduction, connoisseurs and dilletantes in appreciation etc. And then there are issues of entertainment and art, taste and enjoyment, challenge and solace, playing it and listening to it etc. There’s good and bad music, of course, just as there’s fabulous noises and vapid melodies. But before and after all of that, there’s the magic of sounds and the power of silences.

Ditto Buddhisms and Dharma.