The Direction of Buddhism in America today
* Carl Bielefeldt is professor of religious studies and co-director of the Center for Buddhist Studies at Stanford University: For more than a century, Buddhism has been on a remarkable ride in America. It has gone from the marginal religion of Chinese and Japanese immigrants on the West Coast (plus a few eccentric Euro-Americans who dabbled in Theosophy and spiritualism) to a religion practiced by millions of Americans throughout the country and known, at some level at least, to millions more through books, magazines, television, and movies. American bookstores are filled with volumes on "Zen and the art of" this or that; Hollywood makes movies on the Dalai Lama and a Nazi's conversion to Tibetan Buddhism; and TIME magazine runs cover stories on America's fascination with Buddhism. Buddhist ideas appear in New Age religions, psychology, medicine, and even sports and business. Buddhist values are cited in social movements for feminism, peace, ecology, and animal rights. Buddhist temples pop up in unlikely places, from Hacienda Heights, California to the cornfields of Iowa. Buddhist studies flourish in colleges and universities from Smith to Stanford. We even have a new facial lotion called "Hydra-Zen," advertised as relieving skin stress, and a snack called "Zen Party Mix." Clearly the "Zen" in the face cream and snack food has nothing to do with religion as we ordinarily understand it. We're dealing here with something else. An aura surrounds words like "Buddhism" and "Zen." There is a set of associations with familiar American values, such as simplicity, naturalness, peace, and harmony. There are the favorite values of the health and food industries, such as wholesomeness, well-being, and natural goodness; and there are the aesthetic values of the young urban sushi culture, such as tasteful understatement, sophisticated minimalism, and multicultural cosmopolitanism. We seem to be dealing not with a religion, but with something that might be called American "secular spirituality" -- a longing among many (especially the white middle and upper classes) who are still not satisfied with what they have and who want something more; who have all they can eat, but are still searching for that special flavoring, some "psycho-spice" of self-acceptance, perhaps, some rare "inner herb" of guilt-free self-satisfaction. This longing for something more, though in most societies very often associated with religion, seems in our society to be associated with a suspicion of religion. We want something more than institutional religion -something more personal, more private, more narrowly focused on "me" and how I feel about myself -- what might be called "I-dolatry." Of all the religions in America (and ironically enough for a religion famous for denying the self), Buddhism seems to have been the one best able to tap into this desire for spirituality -- to transcend its status as a religion and present itself as a free-floating spiritual resource not tied to a particular institution, community, dogma, or ritual. We can add a dash of Buddhism whenever we need some spiritual flavor. We can market Buddhist cosmetics; we can have bars called "Buddha" and rock

In international news. point of view. we can have cartoons about Zen masters and jokes about how many it takes to change a light bulb -. are we supposed to think when we read that there are millions of Buddhists living in America? What about the hundreds of organizations that we find listed in directories of American Buddhist groups? No one seems to know just how many millions of Buddhists there are in America. Compare this with the media images of fanatical Muslims. say. that Buddhism is not really a religion analogous to Christianity or Judaism -. a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina. then.all without imagining that we're being sacrilegious or insulting anyone's religion. Does this mean. Sikhs. what. Not only is there quite a bit of it relative to other religions. We can even adopt Buddhist values or practices without converting to the Buddhist religion.Vietnamese monks burning themselves in protest against the government or Tibetan nuns tortured and jailed for their demonstrations against Chinese rule. no one implicates the Buddhists of Sri Lanka in the bloody campaign against the Hindu Tamils. It is often said that we have adopted Asian Americans as our "model minority. it tends to focus on "human interest" feature stories: the latest peace mission of the Dalai Lama or interviews with Buddhist superstars like Richard Gere. but who don't belong to any Buddhist organization. Thomas Tweed. Rather.2 bands called "Nirvana". and Hindus (not to mention Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland). To be sure. suggests that we need to take into account a large number of people who fall into a category he calls "nightstand Buddhists" -. if still somewhat exotic. Buddhism is almost never blamed for the foibles of Asian societies. The domestic news almost never treats Buddhist groups as "cults" or plays up the (not uncommon) sexual misadventures of Buddhist leaders." and the media seem to have adopted Buddhism as our model minority religion. some of whom may even describe themselves as Buddhist. but for the most part. but it tends to be highly positive. international spiritual resource capable of blending into the American scene owes . we still get occasional hints of something suspicious (as in the campaign fund-raising stories of Al Gore and the devious Taiwanese Buddhist nuns). Buddhists tend to be [depicted as] peaceful victims of Asian politics ." and we might describe their nightstand reading as "public Buddhism" or "media Buddhism." News coverage of Buddhism seems extraordinary. feature of our cosmopolitan new multiculture. Rather.that it's not an institution (or set of institutions) with members. then. but simply an intellectual style. No one associates the state religion of Buddhism with the nasty politics in Burma.people who read about Buddhism and are attracted to what they read. Buddhism seems to have slipped free from our old images of an alien Oriental paganism. blending smoothly into the American scene as a familiar. "feminism" or "postmodernism"? American Buddhists If so. The transformation of Buddhism from an alien Asiatic paganism to a modern. We might also call them "Buddhist sympathizers. or set of tastes. like. or the evil empire of the Korean Christian movement of Reverend Moon (not to mention lurid stories of televangelists and their prostitutes or Catholic priests and their choirboys). in part because no one has figured out who "counts" as a Buddhist. Compare this with dark media images of black Muslims and Hindu guru cults.

and white. They would rarely think . for that session at least. operating as "client Buddhists. We also need a subcategory like "freelance Buddhist" -those who identify themselves as Buddhist without belonging to any Buddhist organization. when Stanford's Center for Buddhist Studies organized a one-day retreat on Buddhism for the Continuing Studies Program. and escape from reincarnation into what seemed the oblivion of nirvana. describing the often bizarre and alien views that Buddhists actually held and detailing the history of a religion riddled with myth and ritual. free from myth and ritual. 100 people had signed up by noon on the first day of registration. At the Stanford retreat. in the group. Recently. Caucasian Americans were beginning to read about the Buddha in books produced by scholars of classical Indian languages. Buddhist StatuesThe books often depicted the Buddha's teachings as a rational system of philosophical and moral thought -nontheistic. Still. a miraculous resurrection. and Christian emphases on church ritual. and perhaps another category called "client Buddhist" -. while newly arrived immigrant Chinese were worshipping the Buddha in their temples in California. the projected image remains in our books and minds -.this in marked contrast to Christian beliefs in a creator god. Americans seem to feel relatively free to drop in on Buddhist events and participate in Buddhist practices. superstition and magic. To be sure. emphasizing ethical conduct and psychological understanding -. and the list had to be closed. about half the people came one hour early to participate in an optional instruction session on meditation taught by Buddhist monks. These people were. superstition and magic. and practices of the religion in Asia -how many of the difficult bits were overlooked or explained away in the projection of modern western ideals onto the religion. I did not see a single black or Latino. and we now know enough to see clearly how little that early western image of Buddhism corresponds to the actual history. More than a few wanted to share their personal understanding of what Buddhism really is and what Buddhist values are or ought to be. and only one or two Asians. Terms like "nightstand Buddhist" or "Buddhist sympathizer" don't really capture the full range of these people's relationship to Buddhism. a religion ideal for disaffected Christians and Jews looking for a spiritual alternative. Such people are almost all educated. But most seem to have been "sympathizers": people drawn to something they see in the religion who feel some "affinity. At the retreat.3 much to the work of western academics. but about liberal American interests such as ecology and social justice. surprisingly compatible with a scientific worldview and western way of life -. some were no doubt practicing Buddhists. hellfire and brimstone. an immaculate conception. This last category is perhaps the most remarkable of all. Some were simply curious about Buddhism. Many of them wanted to talk during the discussion sessions not about the scholarly presentations on Buddhist history and culture." some spiritual possibility.in short. The academic study of Buddhism has come a long way since the 19th century. piety and faith. affluent.those who make use of Buddhist organizations without belonging to them. for the most part Buddhism seemed safely familiar and modern. teachings.an image much more attractive and influential than all the more sophisticated studies we now produce. But with these bits overlooked or explained away. In the 19th century. there were bits of the teachings that were difficult to swallow: reincarnation." Because of Buddhism's odd status as a "nonreligious" spiritual resource.

4 of dropping in at a synagogue for prayer if they weren't Jewish or taking the Eucharist if they weren't Catholic. laity in immigrant Buddhism. Vietnam. some have networks of affiliated communities in this country. pastoral care for the troubled. we can make some distinctions of type. of course. doing massage therapy at a hot spring resort. and practices. One of the best-known Buddhist monasteries in America. church youth groups. Some use the unfortunate terms "American Buddhists" and "ethnic Buddhists. But for the most part. No one "speaks for" or "represents" Buddhism in this country. fund-raisers. or attending a golf clinic or an investment seminar. Tassajara.as well as newer Buddhist groups continuing to enter from Japan and Taiwan. "Hereditary Buddhists" are mostly (so far) members of Asian immigrant groups or their Asian-American offspring. each with its own organizational structure. Tibet. First. say. church holiday festivals. They serve to provide not only religious services. and funerals for the dearly departed. all commentators on the sociology of American Buddhism are quick to point out that we are dealing here with two distinct kinds of communities. and maybe a scripture study class. mainstream Christians and Jews than white convert Buddhists. they typically have deep roots in and reflect the ways of the old country. Some Buddhist groups. but joining in a Buddhist meditation retreat seems to come quite naturally. Cambodia. Of course. Thailand. hereditary Buddhists are more like the majority of traditional. supports itself with a summer guest season. the distinction between the two types is striking. The food may be sushi instead of hot dogs. but the functions are more or less like that old-time religion that many nightstand Buddhists and white Buddhist converts are looking to escape. Buddhist probably disagree on more than they agree on. Membership in the Buddhist organizations of such groups is typically not a matter of conscious choice or the result of a spiritual quest but a more or less unconscious cultural practice. in fact. Let's call them "convert" and "hereditary" Buddhists. and Mongolia -. have been living in America since the 19th century. We now have representatives from virtually all the Buddhist cultures of Asia -.Korea. And in fact. Some groups have ties to church organizations in Asia. American Buddhism is splintered into many different groups and factions. there is much variation in the types of Buddhism found in these communities. going on a Sierra Club hike. when it turns itself into a spiritual resort. teachings. For the most part. the functions of their religious organizations often look very familiar: worship services. Buddhists are a disorganized lot. like laity in Asia. There is no national Buddhist organization. as well as confirmation of the kids. the games may be mahjong instead of bingo. but sociologically speaking. In this sense. In institutional terms. Buddhists from China and Japan. These can be very different." or the fighting words "white" and "yellow" Buddhists. but especially since the relaxation of quotas on Asian immigration in the 1960s. Within this generally messy situation. They often tend to think of such participation along the lines of. Whatever we call them. depend on such drop-in clients for income and cater to them with specially prepared programs. the number and variety of Asian Buddhists in America have grown dramatically. don't engage in meditation -a practice for the ascetic monks who are imitating the Buddha's lifestyle of . but also a sense of cultural continuity and a cultural center of gravity. there is very little interest in anything like an ecumenical movement.

But they are the forms that have most appealed to convert Buddhists and the Buddhist sympathizers from whom most converts are drawn. Of these three forms. a few interesting groups that have managed to bridge the ethnic divide. Whether large or small. There are. introduced around the turn of the 20th century. they exclude most of the forms followed by the immigrant Buddhist population that makes up the majority of Buddhists in this country. monasteries. the American offspring of a large Japanese Buddhist lay movement. discussed in both popular and academic books. it is quite usual for parallel programs to develop -. Some are quite large and include a network of residential meditation centers. . with centers throughout the country. the groups have increasingly taken on a more Protestant style: egalitarian and antiauthoritarian. and. It is by far the oldest and most successful form of Buddhism in America. mixing together not only Japanese and Euro-Americans but also many African-American converts. They don't expect to become enlightened beings like the Buddha.just little meditation clubs meeting at someone's home. Some of the Zen organizations are very small -. In recent decades. based on traditional Asian Buddhist lay beliefs and practices. Korea. Most notable is the Nichiren Shoshu of America (NSA) or Soka Gakkai. there have been popular Zen teachers from China. But as they have matured and leadership has fallen to the converts themselves. however. and the ethnic makeup is diverse. it is typically ignored or dismissed by other Buddhists. and Vietnam. the focus is typically on lay meditation practice.5 renunciation. Zen Buddhism developed in medieval China and then spread throughout East Asia to Japan. women have increasingly moved into leadership roles. educated classes. and businesses. The American organization is very large. they just want the Buddha to help them make it through this life and into better circumstances in the next. Zen groups often formed around Asian meditation teachers who were given almost complete authority over the group.a fact that does much to explain its popularity here. This kind of old-time Buddhism doesn't often get into the American media and doesn't attract many converts from outside the ethnic group. but American Zen is dominated by styles imported from Japan (hence. Perhaps in part for this reason. another for the mostly Euro-American converts that emphasizes their interest in the philosophical doctrines and spiritual practices traditionally left to the religious specialists or professionals. at least since the Zen boom of the 1960s. and Vietnam. in those congregations where the clerical leadership has attracted a convert following from outside the ethnic group. Zen is undoubtedly the best known. Korea. the religion was already "prepackaged" for export to the West -. Vajrayana. with relatively little distinction between clerical and lay roles.one for the ethnic community. the Japanese name "Zen").Zen. In fact. NSA is almost the only form of Buddhism that has significantly penetrated into the America that lies beyond the affluent. In its early years. and Vipassana -represent only a small fraction of the various forms of Buddhism actually present in America. The three basic forms of American Buddhism -. widely practiced in many centers throughout the country. Thus. This package was first developed by Japanese intellectuals in early 20th-century Japan. in response to their study of western ideas. The American versions are typically a package of traditional forms of monastic practice wrapped in western philosophy and psychology. More commonly. In the process.

it still retains more of the "raw" flavor of Tibetan religion." and it refers to certain forms of Buddhist meditation. largely of the last two or three decades. Although there are some residential Vipassana centers. they often draw heavily on the concepts and techniques of American psychology -. an ancient magical realm of the spirit that preceded the modern disenchantment of the world. initiation rites. Although this Tibetan Buddhism has attracted more or less the same segment of American society looking for more or less the same spiritual results. The Vipassana movement represents a modern adaptation of traditional meditation practice to lay life. and a less critical acceptance of traditional Buddhist scholasticism and the mystical theologies and cosmologies developed in medieval India and Tibet. These represent a more recent development. Tibetan Vajrayana has the lure of the exotic. This style is also quite recent and growing rapidly. chanting. but by American converts to the movement -. Instead.especially by the Insight Meditation Society. and empowerment ceremonies. has almost completely disappeared. Where Zen has appealed to Americans as a kind of this-worldly asceticism. It tends to have a more "Catholic" feel.6 To the right of the Zen groups are the organizations devoted to Vajrayana Buddhism. Buddhism. after the flight of the Dalai Lama to India in 1959. How this style of Buddhism will adapt to America. It is promulgated in America not by Burmese. with a sharper division between monks and laymen. And in fact. Its name comes from a Pali word meaning "observation" or "discernment. healing. They lack most forms of traditional Buddhist worship and depend little on the categories and vocabulary of traditional Buddhist theology. submerged in a spiritual soup in which the . supplemented by short retreats at the centers -. The movement began in Burma around the beginning of the 20th century. Vipassana is to the left. brought by monks steeped in the old ways of Tibetan culture and largely innocent of modern western values. that led to the appearance of Tibetan monks in the West. remains one of the more interesting questions in the future of Buddhism in America. Vipassana comes closest to institutionalizing the notion of Buddhism as a nonreligious spiritual resource. They are the result of the Tibetan diaspora. Vipassana groups typically do not have a clerical leadership. its religious style is rather different from Zen. While modern Japanese Zen has the advantage of looking familiar. a greater emphasis on ritual practices of worship.especially the types known as transpersonal psychology and the Human Potential Movement. If Tibetan Vajrayana is to [the] right of Zen. Tibetan Buddhism has the attraction of other worlds -of a distant pure land of Shangri-la beyond the Himalayas and the reach of international capitalism. even Vipassana itself. Because it has arrived quite suddenly and recently. after Americans have become bored with Tibetan politics and leadership of the groups has passed to the American converts. Vipassana teachings are now beginning to find their way into such best-selling books as Daniel Goleman's EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE and Jon Kabat-Zinn's FULL CATASTROPHE LIVING. Of all the forms of Buddhism in America. In such books. the characteristic emphasis is on individual meditation practice in the home.very much a "do-it-yourself" form of spirituality. Vipassana is the style of American Buddhism that has gone the farthest in breaking its ties with the Asian Buddhist tradition and adapting the religion to a secular American context.

----------------* Donald K. Distinctions such as convert versus immigrant Buddhism or American versus Asian Buddhism necessarily gloss over this diversity. Tibetan Buddhism as mediated through such popularizers as Trungpa Rinpoche. have tended to adapt to the American cultural environment more than recent arrivals. Interreligious dialogue. Hindu. but these distinctive traditions will not be replaced by a lowest-common-denominator. Even within a single Buddhist sectarian tradition. D. Buddhist temples serve as important social/cultural centers. and more recently Theravada Vipassana meditation. Buddhist Vihara (Sinhalese/Sri Lanka) (http://www." It will be interesting to watch what will happen to this "nonreligious" Buddhist spirituality as the Vipassana movement grows into national organizations. those that have been here the longest. The Buddhist traditions that have most influenced the development of American Buddhism during the past fifty years are Zen. so in a sense. "safe spaces" in an alien cultural environment. such as the Washington. Muslim. candidate in the sociology department at Princeton University: The divide between Asians and non-Asians is often described as one of the main characteristics of Buddhism in America. such as Japanese Jodo Shinshu (the Buddhist Churches of America). Religious ecumenism in this country will be seen more and more not simply in terms of Protestant. Catholic. Whatever its forms. many of whom came as refugees. the current picture is considerably more complex. and other traditions as well. Culturally distinctive forms of immigrant Buddhism will gradually change and adapt if they are to survive.buddhistvihara. I hope. ----------------* Wendy Cadge is a Ph. but Buddhism. Among first-generation Southeast Asian immigrants. "shopping-basket" Buddhism either. The diversity of Buddhist expressions in America in particular.com). Buddhist sectarianism and its development in different cultural traditions are nothing new. Santeria.7 Asian religion of Buddhism has been so fully blended into American culture that we may no longer be able to speak of it either as "Asian" or as "religion. While this has often been the case. Among South and Southeast Asian Theravada groups. Lao. such as the Thai. and the West more generally. will promote better understanding among diverse religious traditions that are being woven into the American social fabric. ethnic. is a unique chapter in the history of Buddhism. and Jew.C. and Khmer. How this diversity will sort itself out in the coming decades remains to be seen. . and cultural diversity. Buddhism will become an increasingly important part of the American landscape. individual churches will vary considerably depending on the nature of the congregation.D. we're witnessing a new version of an old story. Swearer is the Charles & Harriet Cox McDowell Professor of Religion at Swarthmore College: Buddhism in America is characterized by a very broad sectarian.

is supported by lay Asian and non-Asian Buddhists alike. Asian and non-Asian monks live together at some U. the sangha. While Asians are more likely to chant or pray and non-Asians are more likely to meditate.like most other religions in America -. At Thai temples in North Carolina and Washington State. And across the country some Asians do visit the meditation centers that are attended primarily by non-Asian Buddhists. and teachings are given in both Thai and English. both Asians and non-Asians often report coming to Buddhist practice and Buddhist organizations in the United States in response to stressful life events. immigrants with advanced technical degrees. and cultural styles. and Chinese. In Massachusetts.includes a tremendous diversity of beliefs. Numrich describes a Thai temple in Chicago and a Sri Lankan temple in Los Angeles where "parallel congregations" of Asian and non-Asian Buddhists gather in the same place under the guidance of the same monks. as well as communally in temples or meditation centers.. the dharma. a Thai temple near San Diego led by Americanborn Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Hindi. It includes those whose Buddhism . and it is different from Tibetan Buddhism or the Mahayana Buddhism of China and Japan. Many Asians and non-Asians alike practice Buddhism privately at home. practices.) In his book OLD WISDOM IN THE NEW WORLD: AMERICANIZATION IN TWO IMMIGRANT THERAVADA BUDDHIST TEMPLES. offered three nights a week. as is Metta Forest Monastery. California. single people and multigeneration families. (This is the kind of Buddhism that comes out of Southeast Asia. D. Across the United States. a community of white monastics in Redwood Valley. two Thai monks and two American-born monks are in residence.C. though at different times to practice different rituals. Vietnamese Buddhistmeditation classes in English. there is quite a bit of overlap in their practices and their commitment to the Buddha. Asians and non-Asians are beginning to attend meditation classes and weekend services together. At Ammayatarama Buddhist Monastery in Seattle. and the four noble truths that underlies the practices.S. In interviews. Further in-depth research about specific Buddhist groups in the United States may uncover more similarities between Asian and non-Asian Buddhists than are evident in current thinking about Buddhism in America. Paul D. for example. the Vipassana Meditation Center has begun to facilitate the visits of non-English speakers by offering retreats in Khmer. Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery. Asians and non-Asians share space in Theravada Buddhist organizations. are attended by 30 non-Thai people. Buddhist temples. but there are important exceptions to this pattern.8 The majority of Asian Buddhists attend Asian temples and non-Asian Buddhists go to meditation centers. At Wat Thai in Washington. Such parallel congregations are not uncommon. and refugees who can barely communicate in English. for example. American Buddhism includes the wealthy and the poor. ----------------* Jan Nattier is associate professor of Buddhism at Indiana University at Bloomington: Buddhism -.

have often been impatient with the more worldly concerns of heritage Buddhists struggling to adapt to a new language. above all Buddhism). These two contingents. and idealistic.and third-generation Asian Americans. American Buddhism. the new adherents' sometimes self-righteous pronouncements on what true Buddhism should be do not sit well with families that have been Buddhist for generations. this situation underwent a dramatic change. New Buddhists. They are less prone to single-minded religious fervor and more concerned with passing on their cultural heritage to the next generation. for their part.have for the most part been young. Southeast Asia. .like new converts to any religion -. have not always seen eye to eye. the anti-establishment attitudes that spread across college campuses in the late 1960s led to scathing critiques of many of the central features of western civilization. needless to say. Meanwhile.is that the overwhelming majority of its members belong to two rather unusual groups. As recently as 1960. on the other are recent Asian immigrants to America. resembles American religion in general: its most striking feature is its variety. Post-1965 immigrants to America. But what sets Buddhism apart from other American religions -. in short. single. It includes those who believe that our actions (in Buddhist terminology. those who consider contributing to the monastic community ("making merit") to be a central Buddhist practice and those who focus exclusively on meditation. heritage Buddhists have tended to view their single-minded religious enthusiasm as excessive. In particular. which brought thousands of Asian Buddhists into America and thousands of non-Asian Americans into Buddhism. by contrast. including not only Buddhism but other values and practices as well. and East Asia poured into the United States in record numbers. our "karma") determine what our next incarnation will be and those who believe that this life is all there is. American Buddhists at the dawn of the twenty-first century are thus almost all new in one way or another: either they are Americans who are new to Buddhism or they are Buddhists who are new to America. and a new job market in their adopted land. a new educational system. It has not always been this way. and they have often viewed those who are Buddhist by heritage as less religiously devoted than themselves. at any rate -.at that time a tiny minority on the American religious scene -were second. mostly of Japanese ancestry. American Buddhism as we know it today is largely a product of these two simultaneous cultural changes.9 emphasizes the importance of living a moral life and those who view moral rules as too constraining. the overwhelming majority of American Buddhists -. But with the liberalization of American immigration policy in 1965 and the youth rebellion that swept the globe in the late 1960s. To the extent that they are aware of these new (first-generation) Buddhists at all. New converts to Buddhism -. Buddhists from Sri Lanka.at the present historical moment. On the one hand are recent converts to Buddhism who are mostly of non-Asian ancestry. leaving young Americans far more receptive than before to things nonwestern (including nonwestern religions. many of whose families have been Buddhist for generations. have generally arrived not as individuals but as families.

by contrast. Will these differences continue? There is every reason to think so. the fact that Buddhism assumes multiple lifetimes implies that there is no ultimate urgency to "get it right" this time around. for there is great diversity within them as well. A temple built by Sri Lankan professionals may hold its services in English and offer separate sessions for meditation and the study of Buddhist scriptures. classes in English (and in Lao. though not exclusively. The major monotheistic religions of the Middle East -. A Cambodian Buddhist who happens upon a service being held by Japanese American Buddhists would see little that strikes her as Buddhist. While participants in the former are generally well educated (and overwhelmingly. Members of a Thai temple chant Buddhist texts in the traditional Pali language. on some level. A visitor who attends a Zen meditation session on Thursday and a Soka Gakkai meeting on Friday would see almost no similarity between them. and Islam -. Just as a working-class Pentecostal and an upper middle-class Episcopalian understand Christianity in very different ways. while . A temple founded by Laotian refugees. Caucasian). While this implies a certain doctrinal flexibility. may feature traditional merit-making ceremonies. for there are deep divides even in religions that have been established in this country for centuries. so Buddhists of diverse social. and just as a Reform Jew and a member of a Hasidic community envision very different types of Judaism. But there is a difference. this scenario still serves to undercut the tendency toward one-lifetime fundamentalism. it does not mean that particular Buddhist communities see no difference between themselves and other Buddhist groups. The diversity among heritage Buddhists is at least as great.Judaism. In addition. But with Buddhism this is not the case.are stark. New Buddhists include not only those who focus on meditation (drawing primarily from Zen. Christianity. a central theme in Buddhism from its earliest days is that different teachings and practices are appropriate for different people. And both Christianity and Islam make the additional claim that all people should adhere to these teachings.all share. and job-networking services. and the Theravada school of Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia) but also those who focus on chanting (a practice disseminated in the United States primarily by a Japanese lay organization known as Soka Gakkai International). Soka Gakkai members come from all educational and economic levels and a wide range of ethnic backgrounds. while Japanese Buddhists sing hymns accompanied by an organ. If an individual does not succeed in achieving liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth in this lifetime. On the contrary. ethnic. Tibetan Buddhism. Temples that include recent immigrants from a single country but of widely different social backgrounds have sometimes suffered from schism as a result of the very different needs and religious preferences of their membership. Though the prospect of a nearly infinite series of rebirths is generally viewed with dread rather than fascination in Asian Buddhist societies.10 But to portray these two groups as polar opposites is to tell only part of the story. and sectarian backgrounds are likely to continue to participate in and create quite distinct communities. the idea that there is a single correct way to be a Jew or a Christian or a Muslim. Individual differences -. he or she will have another chance in the next. lest the children forget their heritage).ranging from the language in which services are conducted to the form of ritual and social activities to styles of dress and even tastes in food -.

not traditional Buddhist values. .and constantly changing -. for the immediate future. As refugees and immigrants from Asia become acclimated to their new environment.while often based on a genuine desire to establish a broader community -.is that all conditioned things are subject to change. for one of the core teachings of Buddhism -. however. In recent years. (Even the custom of holding meetings on Sundays. And these ecumenical moves -. Given this great diversity. one thing seems certain: that American Buddhism will continue to change. much of the drive for such ecumenism has come not from Asian-American Buddhists but from new Buddhists of non-Asian ancestry. is that a colorful -.000 are American converts.) In sum. the fact that both new arrivals and new Buddhists are faced with significant challenges of adaptation makes it virtually certain that the beliefs and practices of both groups will continue to change.have been accompanied by criticisms of many of the practices of particular Asian Buddhist groups as mere cultural baggage. in many cases. With admirable consistency. Ethnicity: Of the estimated 3 to 4 million Buddhists in the United States. the question of whether and how to pass on their Buddhist values to a new generation will arise. is unknown in Asian Buddhist societies and is borrowed from Christian practice. Prebish is professor of religious studies at Pennsylvania State University: To make sense of the many and seemingly conflicting Buddhisms currently on American soil. as new Buddhists grow older and begin to raise children. or even to establish a list of common beliefs and values that can be shared by all.array of Buddhist groups will continue to enrich the American religious landscape.11 a Thai Buddhist layman would find the imagery of a Chinese Buddhist temple foreign indeed. certain changes in the style of Buddhist practice are inevitable. Ironically. No such disappearance seems evident on the American scene at the moment.) Likewise. they are not always happy with the term "convert" that I have used above. A more likely scenario. even predicting (in a number of scriptures contained in the Buddhist canon) that Buddhism as we know it will eventually disappear. five key issues need to be examined: 1. for example. for the same reason. ----------------* Charles S. for example. Is this a problem? Not necessarily. Buddhists have applied this dictum to the institutional forms of their own religious tradition. Only 800. including those of North America -. It is worth considering the possibility that such attempts at establishing unanimity reflect a western (especially Christian) need for consensus. Be that as it may. though. to give their children any religious education at all. there have been some attempts in recent years to find areas of consensus among Buddhist groups: to participate in an annual ecumenical ritual. (The fact that many of these Buddhists see their practice more as a form of individual self-transformation than as a religion has made them reluctant. the vast majority are Asian Americans.found in all Buddhist cultures.

Victor Sogen Hori. 2. methods of teaching and learning. First. American Buddhism has moved away from the hierarchical patterns of Asian Buddhism toward an egalitarianism that is more consistent with American democracy. Social engagement: Socially engaged Buddhism applies to a wide variety of human rights issues. Second. Every attempt by Americans to comprehend Zen intellectually and to implement it in practice has already contributed to its Americanization. American converts' almost exclusive focus on meditation has created conflict with and concern in some Asian immigrant communities. it can be seen in the manner in which individuals pursuing a nontraditional lifestyle. is one of the few scholar-practitioners who identifies Buddhist spiritual practice and applied Buddhist ethics as interpenetrating and complementary." Perhaps the greatest challenge for socially engaged Buddhism in the West is organizational." He offers the most reasonable methodology for a Buddhist practice that is integrated and comprehensive. such as antiviolence and environmental concerns. to ask what constitutes a truly balanced and complete Buddhist practice? Stephen Batchelor. and to the lives of individual Buddhists living "in the world. Practice: There is no disagreement among researchers that Asian immigrant Buddhist communities and American convert communities engage in significantly different Buddhist practices. has criticized the ritual life. As a result of this democratizing process. for example. Adaptation: Some North American Buddhists are concerned about the implications of modifying or altering Buddhist tradition in the name of adaptation. A growing chasm is emerging. "Ethics from this perspective." he says. With the exception of those who have taken up the practices of Soka Gakkai. and meditation practice in Japanese and American Zen. the author of BUDDHISM WITHOUT BELIEFS. and as it gains in maturity. highlighted by a reevaluation of the nature of the relationship between monastic and lay communities. and any potential for future cooperation remains highly uncertain.12 the relationship between the two Buddhist communities has become extremely tenuous. 4. one that also reinforces problematic ethnic distinctions. "is seen as a set of values and precepts that support one's practice. are finding a meaningful role in American Buddhist communities. though. He concludes that "the call for an Americanization of Buddhism is unnecessary. it is apparent in changing patterns of authority in various Buddhist sanghas. a Canadian Rinzai Zen priest and academic professor. 3. Democratization: The democratization of Buddhism in America is evident in three essential aspects of American Buddhist communities. 5. it can be witnessed in changing gender roles. particularly with regard to sexual preferences. but an exciting array of activities can already be documented in the records of individual American Buddhist communities." . Finally. social organization. It is still necessary. it promises to permeate the American Buddhist environment. especially the prominence of women in American Buddhism. What Americans have been practicing for the last several decades is already Americanized Zen. The socially engaged Buddhist movement in the United States represents a radical yet creative re-visioning of traditional Buddhist approaches to societal issues.

" As we try to understand how Buddhism will become American. A lay-oriented sangha 3. A psychologically astute and rational tradition 9. But American Buddhism is still growing. we impatiently expect that the process is already complete. democratization. and nonhierarchical tradition 8. it is likely that the following issues will emerge as key factors in the development of American Buddhism in the next century: 1. many Buddhist leaders emphasize the importance of ecumenism in American Buddhism. innovative. democratic. Most profit from such encounters. changing. A socially informed and engaged tradition Theologian Harvey Cox has written: "Few faiths ever escape modification when they collide or interact with others.pbs. inquiry-based tradition 10. An experimental. but so far most have not been very successful.html . Because America affords the first occasion in history for every Buddhist school from every Asian tradition to exist together in one place at the same time. The underlying hope seems to be that an ecumenical attitude will function as a protective umbrella under which issues of ethnicity. and adapting. and adaptation may be addressed in a constructive and productive fashion. A nonsectarian tradition 6.org http://www.org/wnet/religionandethics/week445/cover. There have been some preliminary attempts at implementing this approach. A meditation-based and experiential tradition 4. An egalitarian. The most astute contributors to the new literature and emerging commentary on American Buddhism counsel that it is through the process itself that acculturation and adaptation occur. A simplified tradition 7. Gender equality 5. Dharma without dogma 2. www. practice. engagement.PBS.13 Finally.

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