Taking a bit of inspiration from the ‘anti-buddhism’ thread, I think this is an interesting theme to talk about. Western Buddhists are not really like what you see among Far Eastern lay people, and at the same time they also aren’t really monks. They are generally not so concerned with merit or a good rebirth, but they do meditate and most study some sutra’s. They don’t uphold the vinaya but many do go to retreats. They do uphold the five precepts but most are partial to eating meat or drinking the odd beer.
It seems like a lot of people build up their practice piecemeal from the available parts — sort of kit-buddhists if you see what I mean. But how do you know what parts of the practice are good for you? Should you stop watching violent movies? Should you become a vegan? Should you start spending all available time on meditation? Should you start dressing in ochre? Should you become a recluse? Should you stop all sexual activity?
In a way it’s great to have all this freedom. We can really do our best for our spiritual growth. But I think even a very mindfully aware practitioner is going to have a hard time discerning what is really beneficial. So there’s the conundrum, how do we make a modern, western-friendly Buddhist path?