I was just reading an implication on an internet Zen Buddhist bulletin board that culture accounts for the views and actions of a student or teacher. I find the suggestion both obvious and ludicrous.
All spiritual persuasions morphed as they moved from one culture to another. D'oh. An African is unlikely to see Christianity through the eyes of an Italian. An American is unlikely to see Zen through the eyes of a person living in Japan.
Culture is how we grew up and how we live. Richer, poorer, dumber, smarter, democratic, authoritarian ... and on and on through the hallways of culture. It is with culture on board that anyone approaches the spiritual adventure. In the same way that we dress according to the season, culture is the clothing we wear when assessing or implementing a spiritual persuasion.
Everyone starts out with his or her culture, his or her bias, his or her goodness or evil, his or her beliefs or disbeliefs, his or her hopes. What other choice is there?
But the fact is that the results of all that cultural background has not yet provided the profound clarity or peace that spiritual life suggests might be possible. Why did any of us test the waters of spiritual life in the first place? Wasn't it in part because culture simply didn't have the answers to the questions and doubts and uncertainties and sorrows that nattered and nagged?
We all began with our cultural baggage. D'oh. And then we got on board with a spiritual persuasion of one kind or another. We might not have known the truth of that persuasion, but we got on board because others (in text or temple or in person) offered descriptions we were willing to explore ... or even believe.
So we practiced. Out of the culture we were born to, we practice. And a little at a time, with luck, the cultural aspects we had so loved become less conclusive. They are simply too limited. In short "me" no longer made much sense in any enduring way. Relying on culture for our 'meaning' is not exactly wrong -- it's just that relying on anything whatsoever doesn't make much sense. This is not something to be understood intellectually or emotionally ... it's just an experience that lacks the doubt -- the limits -- that culture implies.
You are the joker in a deck of cards -- the one that brings meaning a force to any other card in the pack. You are the culture you claim to be part of. Just like anyone else in your culture, you can laugh ... but your laughter reaches to the end of the universe.