It seems protests against cultural appropriation are rife especially in North America. Students have been punished for wearing Mexican sombreros at a Mexican theme party; a practice of trying on a kimono for a selfie in front of a Monet painting of a lady wearing a kimono has been discontinued ; a production of Gilbert and Sullivan's Mikado has been shut down as have yoga classes. All this happened because someone or some people saw this kind of appropriation as wrong and saw it as theft - a continuation of the sense of a colonial right to other people's cultures. It struck me as a bit extreme and a political correctness gone mad. Why could this not be seen as respect for and love of other cultures? It reminded me a little of a group trip I once made to the Philippines where we were welcomed to the Catholic University of Marawi with a rendering of a well known American song called Auld Lang Syne. Of course we took great delight in telling the students about our Scottish Bard, Robert Burns and how the song was Scottish - just appropriated by America!
I'm not sure if it can be called appropriation exactly but I've had my hands mehndi painted, taken part in Indian dancing and on occasions worn a shalwar kameeze often at the invitation of friends from the sub-continent who were proud to share their culture and delighted when others took part. I'd like to think that that's because they felt secure and welcome in Scotland. My house has Japanese prints and scrolls, all of which I truly appreciate, statues of the Buddha and Kuan Yin, texts from different religions and so on. I don't think I have appropriated them but I respect them and am grateful that we now live in a global village where the wisdom of the ages is now available to us.
I wonder if appropriation could be applied to the modern trend in mindfulness and meditation. I've heard some people say that these shouldn't be separated from Buddhist teaching and practice which is basically about inculcating the dharma. I've heard it said that to practice Buddhist meditation is like poaching, with no understanding the context from which it comes. Buddhists don't seem to worry about this. Some Buddhist centres are now teaching meditation and mindfulness in terms of stress management and support degrees in mindfulness, seeing its usefulness in dealing with health and well-being. Mahayana Buddhism has a wonderful doctrine called the doctrine of skilful means. This recognises that we are all at different stages in our human journey and that we can only believe and practice in accordance with that stage. It's almost as if our present stage of development is a lens through which we see and understand life. This means that religious teaching and practice should be geared to that level of development - begin slowly and gradually deepen what has been learned. Skilfully use the appropriate means to take the individual forward in their journey of faith. As someone once said, no point in teaching calculus if the pupil hasn't mastered addition. I can't speak for Buddhists but meditating and practising mindfulness is good for people and the knock on effects means that it is good for society. Buddhism's focus on meditation is a gift to the world and ot other religions who have rediscovered their own meditation practices as Christianity has done. Wouldn't it be terrible if this was disallowed because of religious appropriation?
Religions, I don't think, would ever have the right to accuse others of appropriation in that all religions believe they have a universal message which they want to be available to all. But we religious people have appropriated certain beliefs and understandings to ourselves, not in the sense of stealing them from others (though religions often develop from other religions and are influenced by them) but in the sense of jealously guarding our identity or beliefs. We do this by seeing others as heretics and not allowing them to define themselves according to their own beliefs. I've known some Protestants refuse to call Catholics Christian because Catholics didn't fit into their understanding of Christianity. Sunni and Shia Muslims don't recognise Amadi Muslims as Muslim, some Orthodox Jews don't recognise Liberal Jews as truly Jews. The list could go on. Religious history is peppered with instances when religious communities have declared themselves to be the only true representative of the faith. What right do I have to say someone is not a Christian, or Muslim or Buddhist if the person is seriously trying to follow in the path of that faith just because they believe something different from me or from the accepted orthodox position? One of the graces of interreligious dialogue is to come to the realisation that we all believe and belong in our own way and that there are as many Christianitys as there are believers. The same goes for other religions too. This is not something to regret but to value and to rejoice in - a true sign of the diversity which can so enrich our world, to say nothing of our religions.