You are on page 1of 18


Author(s): Ellen Goldberg

Source: Method & Theory in the Study of Religion, Vol. 11, No. 4 (1999), pp. 340-356
Published by: Brill
Stable URL:
Accessed: 03-03-2016 10:45 UTC

Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at

JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content
in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship.
For more information about JSTOR, please contact

Brill is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Method & Theory in the Study of Religion.

This content downloaded from on Thu, 03 Mar 2016 10:45:54 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Ellen Goldberg

This paper applies Edward Said's thesis on the ideology of 'orientalism' to an

analysis of the transplantation of Buddhism in North America. To do this, the
article examines Martin Baumann's recent model of transplantation as a strategic
adaptation model for the transplantation of Buddhism to North America. In
addition to this, the paper looks at the ways in which a reoriented North American
Buddhism has inherited the latent notions of orientalism.

It is perfectly natural for the human mind to resist the assault on it of

untreated strangeness; therefore cultures have always been inclined to
impose complete transformations on other cultures, receiving these
other cultures not as they are but as, for the benefit of the receiver, they
ought to be. (Said 1994 [1978])

In this paper I will apply Edward Said's thesis of the ideology of

'Orientalism' to an analysis of the transplantation process of Bud
dhism in North America. There have been to date no sustained
studies of this subject. Here I intend only to offer preliminary obser
vations on this complex study, outlining Said's set of structures which
comprise Orientalism and how an application of these structures
might proceed. Donald Lopez maintains that Said's study of
Orientalism emanates from the particular relationship between Islam
and the Western world, and is not immediately applicable to Bud
dhism since Said's study "does not consider the past and present
cultures of Asia" (1995: 11). This, it can be shown, is a limited read
ing of Said.2 Not only does Said provide evidence of widespread
Orientalism throughout Asia, he also shows how the U.S. in its rela
tions with Asian cultures is the heir to the Orientalist legacy (1994: 6,
47-9, 107-9, 285-293).
This paper also draws upon a recent model of transplantation
offered by Martin Baumann (1994; for a more recent study see

1 I would like to thank Ann Baranowski. Without her efforts this paper would not
have been possible.
2 In a more recent study, Lopez (1998: 5) acknowledges the "legacy of colonial
ism" in the "nineteenth- and early-twentieth century constructions of Tibetan Bud

Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 1999 Method & Theory in the Study of Religion

This content downloaded from on Thu, 03 Mar 2016 10:45:54 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Baumann 1997). The term 'transplantation' was first used by van der
Leeuw (1964: 609) in his theory of the dynamic of religions. By this
term he meant a complex interplay between interpretation and tradi
tion, and this is how I will use the term in this paper. The term,
however, has been the subject of debate. Eva K. Neumaier-Dargyay
(1995) contests Martin Baumann's (1994) use of the term. According
to Neumaier-Dargyay (1995: 18) the "imported religion is already in
an altered state before it ever gets appropriated by the host culture."
Thus, for her the metaphor used by Baumann does not work.
Baumann (1996) responds by saying Neumaier-Dargyay offers a lim
ited reading of the term. Baumann, it might be noted, follows van der
Leeuw's use of the term as discussed by Michael Pye (1969). While
Baumann's insights into a strategic adaptation model for the trans
plantation of Buddhism to Germany are important and clarifying,
Baumann does fail to note that Germany has inherited the deeply
embedded structures of Orientalism and that these structures shaped
the entire transplantation process he describes.3 Briefly, Baumann
outlines a five stage adaptation process that includes; (i) contact; (ii)
confrontation and conflict; (iii) ambiguity and adaptation; (iv)
recoupment (reorientation); and (v) innovative self-development. In
this essay I will extend this model to an analysis of Buddhism in
North America. (It is important to add that this model may very well
describe the broader strategies of adaptation of Buddhism beyond its
homeland in India to other Asian countries.) Since recoupment and
innovative self-development are, for my purposes, overlapping cat
egories, I will simply use the single phrase "reorientation and innova
tion" and reduce the five stages to four stages. For each of these
stages in the adaptation process I will show how specific structures of
Orientalism articulate more thoroughly the dynamics involved in
transplantation. The stages, it might be added, do not necessarily
proceed sequentially or chronologically. Rather, the categories are
fluid and the actual transplantation process is complex.
Said's structures of Orientalism can be summarized briefly as fol
lows: mystification, essentialization, textualization, polarization of
false geo-political categories, marginalization, and generalization.
(Although it is well beyond the scope of this paper, one could also
apply these categories as broadly defined by Said to a discussion of

3 Eva K. Neumaier-Dargyay (1995) touches upon this point in her response to

Baumann (1994) although it is not her major focus.

This content downloaded from on Thu, 03 Mar 2016 10:45:54 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

the constructions of Buddhism outside of India, in particular to

China, Japan, Southeast Asia, and Tibet.) To this list I would add
feminization, an idea implicit in Said's analysis, but not explicitly
drawn out. Each of these categories will be explained as they are
integrated into the four stages of transplantation mentioned above.
Furthermore, this paper focuses on non-Asians drawn by the pros
elytizing impulse within Buddhism, rather than ethnic Buddhist tra
ditions that were transplanted to North America beginning in the late
18th and early 19th centuries as a result of immigration. It is evident
in North America that there has been a bifurcation of the tradition

into two distinct Buddhisms which may be broadly designated as: 1 )

Asian immigrant, North American Buddhism, and 2) Non-Asian,
North American Buddhism. It is the latter tradition, what Victor
Hori (1995) has called "sweet and sour Buddhism," that I will be
addressing in this paper (see Tamney, 1992 for demographic data on
this matter).

1. Contact

The first stage in the process of transplantation involves contact be

tween the foreign and host cultures through, for example, the media
of Buddhist teachers and texts. The 1893 meeting of the World's
Parliament of Religions in Chicago is often cited as the date of first
contact between Buddhism (and Hinduism too, for that matter) and
North American culture. According to Rick Fields, however, this
moment of contact can be seen "as the culmination of a movement
that had begun much earlier" (1981: xiii). Indian themes deriving
from the writings of Orientalists such as William Jones, Charles
Wilkins, and Brian Hodgson are evident as early as the 1830s and
1840s in the literary works of the American Transcendentalists such
as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Walt
Whitman—though a conflation of Hindu and Buddhist themes are
also evident in their writing. Walt Whitman was called "an American
Buddh" after the publication of Leaves of Grass," and Thoreau was
described "like a priest of Buddh" (1981: 64-5). The popularity of
their writings, says Fields, made Buddhism "a household word"
nearly fifty years before the arrival of the first Buddhist teachers at
the World's Parliament of Religions in 1893 (1981: 69).
The more important matter, however, is that Orientalism is al
ready present in the self-identification of Buddhism in North

This content downloaded from on Thu, 03 Mar 2016 10:45:54 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

America. Walt Whitman, for example, may have Buddhist themes in

Leaves of Grass, but the origins and antecedents of these themes re
quire analysis. In other words, North American contact with Bud
dhism is derived first from European sources.
These sources of "Eastern Wisdom" are a product of Orientalism
in the sense that they are text-based. As Said (1994: 52) puts it, "the
Orient studied was a textual universe by and large; the impact of the
Orient was made through books and manuscripts." Said shows how
Western scholars made the "Orient" a more "real thing" through
essentializing it in texts. He writes (1994: 21-22):
In any instance of at least written language, there is no such thing as a
delivered presence, but re-presence, or a representation. The value, effi
cacy, strength, apparent veracity of a written statement about the Ori
ent therefore relies very little, and cannot instrumentally depend, on the
Orient as such. On the contrary, the written statement is a presence to
the reader by virtue of its having excluded, displaced, made super
erogatory any such real thing as "the Orient." Thus all of Orientalism
stands forth and away from the Orient: that Orientalism makes sense at
all depends more on the West than on the Orient, and this sense is
direcdy indebted to various Western techniques of representation that
make the Orient visible, clear, "there" in discourse about it.

Thus contact between Buddhism and North America was initially

through a process of translation and retranslation of texts. This is
equally true in the contact stage in China, Tibet, and so forth. Fur
thermore, the conflation or absorption of ideas from Hinduism and
Buddhism is evident, for example, in the constructions of Southeast
Asian and Tibetan Buddhism. The representation of the East, then,
through these translated texts is seen as the "real thing" and as such,
according to Said, represents a resistance to reality (Said 1994: 116).
My point is that North Americans did not contact Buddhism as such,
but Buddhism as represented and essentialized in these textual

The same is true of Buddhist teachers who arrived in North

America in 1893 for the World's Parliament of Religions. Buddhist
teachers such as Soyen Shaku, a Rinzai Zen master from Japan, and
Anagarika Dharmapala (born Don David Hewavitarne), a Ceylonese
Christian convert who reverted to Buddhism, came from Asia to
propagate Buddhism to non-Asian North Americans. To this end,
Shaku brought "many thousand copies" (Fields 1981: 124) of Bud
dhist works translated into English—thereby making Buddhist texts

This content downloaded from on Thu, 03 Mar 2016 10:45:54 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

readily available to North Americans. Three years later Shaku sent

D. T. Suzuki, his most promising disciple, to North America to pro
mote Rinzai Zen Buddhism. Suzuki later became one of the most
significant figures in the emerging North American Zen presence.
What is significant here, as I will show, is that this initial lineage of
Zen propagators in North America transmited the structures of an
Orientalized Buddhism.
This same Orientalized ideology can be observed in the work of
Dharmapala. It is interesting to note that Dharmapala converted
Charles T. Strauss to Buddhism during this visit to Chicago. Strauss,
a Jewish-born American, was the first non-Asian North American to
convert to Buddhism in the U.S. This is significant in light of recent
discussions "of the prevalence of Jewish converts to Buddhism.
(Kamenetz 1994). Charles Hallisey points out that Said assumes
Orientalism is embedded only in European culture. Orientalism,
however, in Hallisey's view, may be rooted in the foreign culture's
self-representation (1995: 49-50). This is the case not only with Bud
dhist revival movements in Sri Lanka, but also, for example,
Brahmanical reform movements in 18th and 19th century India.
Revival and reform initiatives inspired in part by Orientalism sur
faced in indigenous Asian cultures in protest to hundreds of years of
colonial domination. Dharmapala, and Henry Steel Olcott, represent
two significant spokespersons for the so-called "protestant Bud
dhism"4 movement in Sri Lanka. They became influential propaga
tors of Sri Lankan Buddhism in the West, and their home-spun no
tions5 of Buddhism which emphasized the de-ritualized, and scientific
and rational origins of Buddhism, provide evidence not only of con
tact between Buddhism and North America, but a particular kind of
Buddhism; that is to say, Orientalized Buddhism.
Socially engaged Buddhism, which is an emergent discourse in
Asia today, is a derivative form of the revivalist Buddhism of
Dharmapala and Olcott. This movement has an intricate history. In
Sri Lanka in the 1900s it can be seen as a protest movement against

4 Gananath Obeyesekere coined the term "Protestant Buddhism" in 1972 as a

way to write about the transformation of Buddhism in Sri Lanka after the devasta
tion of colonial domination and modernization. See Obeyesekere (1972). Also see a
recent study of Olcott by Stephen Prothero (1996).
3 This refers to Gandhi's notion of sarvodaya which inspired the Sarvodaya
Shramadana movement in Sri Lanka and its rural development projects. This move
ment follows upon earlier Sri Lankan revivalist trends inspired by Dharmapala and
Olcott. See Queen and King (1995).

This content downloaded from on Thu, 03 Mar 2016 10:45:54 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

the Christian and colonial presence in this country, and is a precur

sor to the more contemporary formulations of social engagement. In
India, the Dalit social protest movement against untouchability un
der the leadership of Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (1891-1956) is
another distinct example of socially engaged Buddhism in modern
Asia (See Ambedkar 1989). Other Asian Buddhist reformers and po
litical activists such as Thich Nhat Hanh in Vietnam, Aung San Sun
Kyi in Myanmar, and Tenzin Gyatso the 14th Dalai Lama, are
examples of modern peace activists who seek within their own par
ticular schools of Buddhism the impetus for change and reform.
There is question and debate among Buddhists today as to whether
this engagement is heresy or orthodoxy (see Queen and King 1995).
The popular "engaged Buddhism," then, that is so characteristic of,
and necessary to, the reorientation of Buddhism in the West, is not
exclusive to North America only, both its Asian and North American
expressions believe their applied Buddhism to be the true and origi
nal dharma. Likewise, both Asian and North American "engaged Bud
dhism" exhibit what Said identified as the structures of Orientalism.

For example, they both are text-based and their tendency toward
scientific/rational thought proceeds from this text-dependency much
like the European Protestant world from which it emerged. Queen
(1995) shows new reliance in Sri Lankan Buddhism on "the authority
of scriptures." Dharmapala and Olcott composed Gihi Vinaya based
on Christian missionary manuals and Buddhist Catechism respectively.
The latter has seen 40 editions in 20 languages and is still in use in
Buddhist communities. This is equally true of B. R. Ambedkar and
his The Buddha and his Dhamma. As Queen writes (1995: 26): "each
sentence is versified, and the style imitates that of the English Orien
talist T. W. Rhys Davids, whose renderings of the Pali scriptures
were featured in Max Muller's Sacred Books of the East." Specifically,
however, this Protestant influence can be most clearly seen in its
struggle for social justice. As Christopher Queen (1995: 30) puts it,
"The Buddhism that attracted Americans was not one of pessimism,
resignation, and retreat, but a vigorous religion of optimism and

6 Stephanie Kaza (1993: 64-65), however, argues that the emphasis on individual
liberation within Buddhism is an obstacle to social engagement. Rather, North
American Buddhism draws its impulse for social justice from Christian and Western
feminist ethics.

This content downloaded from on Thu, 03 Mar 2016 10:45:54 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

The story of D. T. Suzuki and his importance to the contact stage

of Zen Buddhism in the West and a whole generation of North
Americans referred to as the "Beat Generation" can be found, for
example, in Robert H. Sharf (1995), Stephen Bachelor (1994), Tho
mas Tweed (1992), and Rick Fields (1981). For the purpose of this
discussion, however, Suzuki represents another example of a "curator
of the Buddha" to the West (Lopez 1995) whose teachings reflect an
Orientalized understanding of Buddha dharma. Upon his arrival in
the United States in 1897, Suzuki resided with Paul Carus (1852
1919) in La Salle, Illinois. Carus was a significant figure in Suzuki's
life and influenced his understanding of Buddhism. Carus' Bud
dhism, clearly derived from the Orientalist impulse, was positivistic.
Moreover, he saw the Buddha himself as the first positivist. Like
Olcott and Dharmapala, his Buddhism resounds with Protestant
overtones, the like of which are reflected in the title of his text, Gospel
of the Buddha (1915). This volume contains selected re-translations of
scholarly sources of the time and was translated into Japanese by
Suzuki himself. Sharf indicates that (1995: 121):
Suzuki's exegetical agenda—his strategy for presenting Zen to lay audi
ences in Japan and the West—was influenced as much by the Western
currents of thought to which he was exposed as a philosophy student in
Tokyo and as assistant to Carus, as it was by his necessarily limited
involvement in Zen training as a lay practitioner at Engakuji.

As a prolific writer, lecturer, and translator, Suzuki was a major

figure in, if not singularly responsible for, the Zen explosion in North
America. The list of those he influenced includes Alan Watts, Erich
Fromm, Philip Kapleau, John Cage, Thomas Merton, Carl Jung,
Jack Kerouac, Alan Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, to name just a few.
Through Suzuki and, for example, the writers of the Beat Genera
tion, Zen Buddhism became a popularized and re-oriented form of
Buddhism made accessible to non-Asian North Americans.
This Buddhism that North America inherited from Suzuki was
thoroughly Orientalist. For instance Suzuki's Buddhism harbours
characteristics of mystification. That is, he valorizes pure, non-dual
direct experience over ritual and doctrine. Furthermore, his generali
zation of Buddhism can be found in a kind of perennialist approach
to Buddhism and world religions. Finally, Suzuki's preoccupation
with the categories 'Orient' and 'Occident' finds expression in a re
versal of the polarization of geo-political designations. Suzuki, like
other Asian Orientalists such as Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore,

This content downloaded from on Thu, 03 Mar 2016 10:45:54 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

contrasts the essential spirituality of Asia with Occidental material

ism. These structures of Orientalism, as defined by Said, came to
typify the bohemianism of North American Zen Buddhism. By de
picting Buddhism as exotic, transcendental, and essentially mystical,
Buddhism was falsely characterized; and this misrepresentation still
lingers on in North American forms of Zen Buddhism.
By the time this hybrid form of Buddhism had reached North
America, one characteristic of Said's Orientalism is already implicit
within the amalgam, that is, feminization. All Orientalist literature
and scholarship developed the category of the Orient by means of
false dualisms and the creation of otherness.

Along with all other people variously designated as backward, degener

ate, uncivilized, and retarded, the Orientals were viewed in a frame
work constructed out of biological determinism and moral-political
admonishment. The Oriental was linked thus to elements in Western
society (delinquents, the insane, women, the poor) having in common
an identity best described as lamentably alien. (Said 1994: 207)

Along with Said we must note that the privileged Occident not only
establishes a polarized East and West, but casts these polarities in
gendered terms. This gendering is a requirement for the Orientalist
project to succeed. The uneven exchange of power between men and
women in patriarchal cultures provides the perfect metaphor for
domination and subjugation. It allows the male creator to control
and manipulate for his own purposes the female subject. Said hints at
the feminization of the Orient throughout his study, but the full
articulation of the implications of this gendered discourse has yet to
be put forth. Here I can only begin to show how this feminization is
operative in the transplantation of Buddhism to North America.
While the Occident, according to Said, is perceived as male, ra
tional, liberal, logical, and holding real values, the mechanism of false
dualism recasts the Oriental as female, passive, non-autonomous,
non-sovereign, alienated, silent, supine, irrational, gullible, deficient
in logic, devoid of energy, liars, and wanting in symmetry (Said 1994:
49, 56-57, 97, 138). This strategy of femininization is part of the
inherited legacy deeply entrenched in the image of the Buddha, and
Buddhism, in the West (Stanley K. Abe, 1995: 75, for instance,
quotes Alfred Foucher's observations of the effeminate nature of the
Gandhara Buddha images). As heirs to British and French Orientalist
scholarship, the United States assimilated these characterizations
without question since this was their primary avenue of contact with

This content downloaded from on Thu, 03 Mar 2016 10:45:54 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

the East. The feminization of Buddhism is not explicitly expressed in

the U.S., but is found implicitly in such themes as Buddhist pacifism
and non-violence. Here the received tradition limits the power and
authority of the living tradition which is always more complex than
the characterization. The Orientalist reifies the category of Buddhist
non-violence as a characteristic dislocated from modern life. How
ever, living Buddhism disrupts this reified image, but it is the reified
image that appeals to North Americans. For example, during the
U.S. involvement in the Vietnam war, many peace activists turned to
Buddhism as a religious and ethical alternative because of its teach
ings of non-violence. Although the self-immolation of Thich Quang
Due in Saigon in 1963 contradicted this perception of the passive
Buddhist monk, nonetheless, the orientalized perception still domi
nates. Latent in this received imagery of the feminine 'other' lies the
justification for power and authority. Hence, this perception of Bud
dhism is held onto tenaciously because its gendered dualism (Bud
dhism = passive = female; whereas West = aggressive = male) guar
antees the subtle ongoing marginalization of Buddhism in North

In sum, it is very difficult to pinpoint the precise moment of con

tact between Buddhism and North America. Nevertheless it is certain

that the contact was initially textual followed by the teachings of

eminent Buddhist individuals representing various forms of Asian
Orientalist Buddhism. Thus the Buddhism that North America had
initial contact with was a Buddhism already reconstituted for its
Western audience.

2. Confrontation and conflict

Baumann postulates that, during the adaptive stage of conflict and

confrontation deficiencies in the host culture become evident by the
presence of the foreign culture. In turn, the foreign culture, because
of its 'otherness,' proposes strategic means to solve these cultural
deficiencies. In addition, the host culture, according to Baumann,
must be tolerant of, and willing to admit, the foreign culture into its
domain (1994: 40). Baumann's model overlooks, however, the Orien
talist structures already present in the foreign culture's "re
orientations," and it is these very elements that offer a corrective to
the deficiencies in the host culture, for they are precisely what the
Western imagination is longing for. The image of Buddhism, for

This content downloaded from on Thu, 03 Mar 2016 10:45:54 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

instance, as exotic and mystical was a panacea for the social ills in the
host culture. To illustrate, in the 1960s, there was enormous social
and political protest in the United States (and, to a lesser extent, in
Canada) because of the war in Vietnam. Racial and political unrest
swept major American urban centers. The foreign idea of ahimsa
(non-violence), the then "exotic" practice of vegetarianism, and so
forth, attracted many non-Asian North Americans. In a decade of
wide-spread experimentation with psychedelics, Buddhism also of
fered the alien practice of meditation as an alternative to drug-use. In
addition, this pacified form of Buddhism seemed to provide options
to the militaristic and aggressive socio-political problems that the
U.S. faced.7 It is by virtue of its exotic otherness, expressed in these
practices, that Buddhism offered a romanticized emancipatory vision
of social reform to non-Asian North Americans. This can also be
seen, as Lopez notes, in the West's attitudes toward Tibetan Bud
dhism in the West; "Tibet is seen as the cure for an ever-ailing
Western civilization, a tonic to restore its spirit. And since the Ti
betan diaspora that began in 1959 there seems an especial urgency
about taking this cure, before it is lost forever"(Lopez 1998: 10).
These examples point out how Buddhism provided solutions to
deficiencies in the host culture. The second phase of this stage of
conflict and confrontation, as articulated by Baumann, is that the
host culture willingly admits the foreign culture into its geographical
space. The example that most poignantly expresses the openness and
willingness of North American countries to admit Buddhism is the
case of the Tibetan exiles.8 The 1960s marked the beginning of a
significant interest in Tibetan Buddhism in North America. The in
vasion and occupation of Tibet by the Chinese Peoples Liberation
Army in the 1950s, and the flight of the 14th Dalai Lama from Tibet
in 1959, initiated a significant shift in the North American perception
of Tibetan Buddhism.
As is well known, in 1959 approximately 70,000 Tibetan refugees
followed the Dalai Lama into exile. Most of the exiled Tibetans
settled in India on land donated by the Indian government specifi
cally for the Tibetan refugees. Numerous problems—such as dra
matic climate change, lack of food, and so forth—seriously threat

7 In response to the social dissonance in the U.S., courses in Buddhism at North

American universities emerged and became very fashionable. For an exceptional
study of the Orientalist legacy in Buddhology in the West see Lopez (1995).
8 For elaboration, see the recent study by Lopez (1998).

This content downloaded from on Thu, 03 Mar 2016 10:45:54 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

ened the survival of the Tibetan refugee community in India. The

lineage of monks was in serious danger of extinction. In response to
these critical conditions, the United States and Canada offered the
Tibetan Buddhists refuge. Shortly after their arrival, Tibetan Bud
dhist Centres took root in many North American locales. Perhaps
Padmasambhava's well known visionary message foresaw this con
temporary struggle and emigration of the Tibetan people; "When the
iron bird flies, and horses run on wheels, the Tibetan people will be
scattered like ants across the world, and the dharma will come to the
land of the red man." Without political and economic support for the
plight of the Tibetan refugees, which is the second phase of conflict
and confrontation, Padmasambhava's heirs may have never reached
the West.

Tibetan adaptation to North America represents not only the sec

ond phase of conflict and confrontation, as outlined by Baumann,
but also a movement within Orientalist ideology itself away from a
more Protestant rendering of its subject, to one that is decidedly
exotic. The Orientalist occupation with the alien and exotic, mystical
and atemporal, and the return to the primitive is seen in North
America. For example, Robert Thurman's recent photographic ex
pose Inside Tibetan Buddhism (1995) shows North American initiates
performing sacred Buddhist rituals, prostrating before Tibetan dei
ties, sitting in meditation, and making mandala offerings alongside
Tibetan Buddhist practitioners and monks. It also documents in
visual splendour the development of a distinctly North American
Buddhist sangha composed of Tibetan monks, and non-Asian North
American women and men. Thus Thurman's photo-essay captures
nicely North American fascination with Tibetan Buddhist exotica.9

3. Adaptation and ambiguity

The adaptation of a foreign religion to another geo-cultural context is

an intricate process. Ambiguity seems unavoidable. Baumann ex
plains (1994: 41): "For members of the host culture it is only possible
to interpret and understand symbols, rituals or ideas of the imported
religious tradition on the basis of their own conceptions." Thus, the

9 See also recent Hollywood films such as The Little Buddha (1996), Seven Years in
Tibet (1997), and Kundun (1998). As Lopez notes (1998: 7): "Tibetan Buddhist culture
has been portrayed as if it were itself another artifact of Shangri-La from an eternal
classical age, set high in a Himalayan keep outside time and history."

This content downloaded from on Thu, 03 Mar 2016 10:45:54 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

foreign culture borrows jargon and terminology from the host. This
pattern is already familiar to Buddhism in its adaptation to Asian
countries outside its Indian homeland such as China and Japan (for
an excellent account of this process see Maspero, 1981). Buddhism in
China, for example, looked to the indigenous philosophy and religion
of Taoism for adaptive terminology while in North America, Bud
dhists turned, for example, to the language of Western psychothera
pies and Christianity. This process of adaptation also involves the
appropriation of concepts and terminology by the host culture from
the foreign religious tradition. Examples of this appropriation can be
seen in the work of Carl Jung and his influence on North American
psychologists such as Erich Fromm, Abraham Maslow, Ken Wilbur,
Roger Walsh, and Ron Kurtz. Jung's experimentation with "the wis
dom of the East" is well-documented. However, his ambivalence
toward Eastern philosophy and his ultimate rejection of Hindu and
Buddhist psycho-spiritual methods such as yoga reveals the implicit
Orientalism in his writings on Eastern spirituality. Gomez (1995)
shows that Jung functions as an intermediary between East and West,
but it is an Orientalized rendering of the East that is communicated
via Jung to the West.
Another strategic mechanism in the third stage of adaptation
available to Buddhism in North America is marketing, consumerism,
and electronic media. The Snow Lion Fall '96 Newsletter, for instance,
sells Buddhist dharma items such as an inflatable meditation cushion
(zqfu) for $22. Under the caption, "Liberate your senses!" we find
Khatsa: a three-some of Tibetan hot sauce, barbeque marinade and
salsa, listed at $17.95.10 It also advertises a peace mandala computer
screen saver ($43.95) as well as a peace mandala jigsaw puzzle
($20.00). In addition, the catalogue highlights a limited edition de
signer Kalachaba watch for $120 endorsed by the Dalai Lama. Adap
tation through consumerism and marketing can also be seen in the
North American fascination with exotic practices such as tantra. The
Snow Lion book catalogue offers a variety of texts written specifically
with the Westerner in mind including tantric manuals, biographies of

10 The advertisement explains that these sauces are "from Dahen Kyaping's fa
ther who was able to leave Tibet after 21 years as a political prisoner.... These sauces
are not only authentic but they taste fabulous—spicy but not too hot for most
people.... The ingredients are vegetarian and are packaged in a gift box made from
recycled cardboard....This is a great gift item." It also says that Khatsa is available
for business in the food industry (Snow Lion Fall 1996 Newsletter and Catalogue. 23).

This content downloaded from on Thu, 03 Mar 2016 10:45:54 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

yogis, as well as books on the ancient wisdom of dream yoga, Tibetan

arts of love," and the secrets of immortality. Endorsing captions for
the books from scholars such as Jose Cabezón and Jeffrey Hopkins
are found throughout. Said is well aware of the impact of electronic
and printed media. He writes that (1994: 26):
television, the films, and all the media's resources have forced informa
tion into more and more standardized molds. So far as the Orient is
concerned, standardization and cultural stereotyping have intensified
the hold of the nineteenth-century academic and imaginative demonol
ogy of "the mysterious Orient."

Said does not hide his disappointment by the marketing of Oriental

stereotypes and images in the West. But he also recognizes that using
the known and familiar to understand the unknown is "natural."
Buddhism is using the avenues available in a Western democratic/
capitalist society to adapt itself to its foreign context such as Western
psychotherapy, consumerism, the media, and Christianity, and these
avenues colour how Buddhism is depicted in the West. But Bud
dhism is also having an influence on its host seen in the proliferation
of Buddhist centres, the popularization of Buddhist terms and con
cepts, the rise in enrolment in courses in Buddhism as well as the
prominence given to Buddhist studies at major universities, articles in
magazines such as Vanity Fair that feature celebrity Buddhists (e.g.,
Richard Gere), Hollywood movies such as Kundun and Little Buddha,
and so forth. This reciprocity exemplifies the orientalist structures
already embedded in the amalgam form of Buddhism. As such, it is
an essentialized Buddhism, illustrated by such things as chocolate
bars and the computer commercials which use images of sagacious
Tibetan monks to sell their products. This sort of representation only
reifies Buddhism once again, and fortifies the polarization of the
Occident and the Orient.

4. Reorientation and innovation

This final stage of the adaptation process of transplantation involves

assertion of the foreign religious tradition's distinctive identity. In
theory, the ambiguities that may have arisen in the third stage of
" The description here reads, "Tibetan Arts of Love presents in lucid detail the sixty
four arts of love, divided into eight varieties of sexual play—embracing, kissing,
pinching and scratching, biting, moving to and fro and pressing, erotic noises, role
reversal, and positions of lovemaking."

This content downloaded from on Thu, 03 Mar 2016 10:45:54 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

adaptation are examined and eliminated. This critical stage brings

about a reorientation in the foreign religious tradition's self-identity
within the host culture and defines its teachings and practices with
more precision. This is the stage in which innovative self-develop
ment occurs, and the stage which will likely continue to shape North
American Buddhism. Here I can only speculate about some of the
discourses that will re-orient Buddhism in North America.
One of the most significant innovations in Buddhism is just begin
ning: that is, the encounter between Buddhism and Western Femi
nism. The status of women in North American Buddhism requires
more analysis. In recent years this topic has developed momentum,
especially seen in the works of scholars such as Anne C. Klein (1995),
Diana Y. Paul (1979), Miranda Shaw (1994), and Rita Gross (1993).
According to feminists within Buddhism, critical examination of
androcentrism in Buddhist dharma and sangha, which is predominantly
male, is necessary. Furthermore, feminism is raising issues regarding
ordination and the status of women in lay communities in North
America. Their analyses are also impacting on international Buddhist
The urgency of the global environmental crisis has made an im
pact upon North American Buddhists and is already proving to be
another innovation in Buddhist self-identification in North America.
This impetus is evident in Ian Harris'(1995) term "ecoBuddhism"
used for those movements which promote a view of Buddhism as
intrinsically environmentalist, a view of Buddhism Harris contests.
Others, however, such as Stephanie Kaza (1993), Joanna Macy
(1991), Jeremy Hayward (1990), and the Dalai Lama (1990: 1992)
seek a congruence between Buddhist and environmental ethics. The
doctrine of pratityasamutpada (dependent origination) provides the fun
damental theoretical foundation for the environmental movement
linking it with general systems ideas in Western life sciences. While
this East/West theoretical fusion may be a sign of innovation in
North American Buddhism, it may not be ultimately supportable in
Buddhist scriptures. Nonetheless, it seems likely that this conflation of
Buddhist doctrine and environmental ethics will be another major
force that will shape and re-orient Buddhism in its North American

Critical work is being done in the area of post-colonial and subal

tern studies by scholars such as Gayatri Spivak and Ashish Nandy.
Their insights into the perverse and bewildering nature of colonial

This content downloaded from on Thu, 03 Mar 2016 10:45:54 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

domination provides a powerful critique of the entrenched structures

of Orientalist ideology in third world countries such as India. Perhaps
it is still too early to say what the effects of such research will be on
the practice of Buddhism in North America, but recent studies such
as Curators of the Buddha: The Study of Buddhism Under Colonialism (1995),
which attempts to uncover the legacy of Orientalism in Western
Buddhology, and Prisoners of Shangri-La (1998), which charts the devel
opment of Tibetan Buddhism in North America, offer a beginning.
By investigating the Orientalized forms of Buddhism in Western
scholarship, the latent and inherited notions of a thoroughly
Orientalized Buddhist practice can also begin to surface.

5. Conclusion

One major purpose of Orientalism is to make the Orient knowable—

but a living cultural reality continually contradicts what can be
known. Living Buddhism has proven this time and again in its trans
plantation throughout Asia. What is clearly evident in the history and
development of Buddhism is that its mechanisms and strategies for
adaptation and transplantation have proven successful. Living Bud
dhism, it seems, is equipped to deal with projections, abstractions,
mystifications, false dualisms, essentialism, and so forth which char
acterize the Oriental project to create a knowable stable subject. But,
then, Buddhism itself is about bursting through such characteriza
tions since there is, according to Buddhist doctrine, no stable subject.

Queen's University


Abe, Stanley K. (1995). Inside the wonder house: Buddhist art and the West. In
Donald S. Lopez (ed.), Curators of the Buddha, 63-107. Chicago: University of
Chicago Press.
Ambedkar, B. R. (1989). Annihilation of caste. In Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and
Speeches, 23-99. Volume 1. Bombay: Education Department, Government of
Bachelor, Stephen (1994). The Awakening of the West: The Encounter of Buddhism and
Western Culture. London: Aquarian.
Baumann, Martin (1994). The transplantation of Buddhism to Germany: Processive
modes and strategies of adaptation. Method & Theory in the Study of Religion 6 (1):
-— (1996). Methodological smugness and the transplantation of symbolic systems:
A reply to Eva K. Neumaier-Dargyay. Method & Theory in the Study of Religion. 8
(4): 367-372.

This content downloaded from on Thu, 03 Mar 2016 10:45:54 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

— (1997). Cultural contact and valuation: Early German Buddhists and the creation
of a "Buddhism in Protestant shape." Numen 44 (3): 270-295.
Benevides, Gustavo (1995). Giuseppe Tucci, or Buddhology in the age of fascism. In
Donald S. Lopez, Jr. (ed.), Curators of the Buddha: The Study of Buddhism Under
Colonialism, 161-197. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Carus Paul (1973) [1915]. Gospel of the Buddha. LaSalle, IL: Open Court Publishing.
Fields, Rick (1981). How the Swans Came to the Lake: A Narrative History of Buddhism in
America. Boulder: Shambala.
Gomez, Luis O. (1995). Oriental wisdom and the cure of souls: Jung and the Indian
East. In Donald S. Lopez, Jr. (ed.), Curators of the Buddha: The Study of Buddhism
Under Colonialism, 197-251. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Gross, Rita M. (1993). Buddhism After Patriarchy: A Feminist History, Analysis, and Recon
struction of Buddhism. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.
Gyatso, Tenzin (1990). A Policy of Kindness. Ithaca: Snow Lion.
— ( 1992). A Tibetan Buddhist perspective. In Spirit and Nature: Why the Environment is
a Religious Issue, 109-125. Boston: Beacon.
Harris, Ian (1991). How environmentalist is Buddhism? Religion 21: 101-114.
Hayward, Jeremy (1990). Ecology and the experience of sacredness. In Allan Hunt
Badiner (éd.), Dharma and Gaia, 64-74. Berkeley: Parallax.
Hori, Victor (1995). Sweet and sour Buddhism. Triangle 1994: 48-52.
Hallisey, Charles (1995). Roads taken and not taken in the study of Theravada
Buddhism. In Donald S. Lopez, Jr. (ed.), Curators of the Buddha: The Study of
Buddhism Under Colonialism, 251-297. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Kamenetz, Rodger (1994). The Jew in the Lotus: A Poet's Rediscovery of Jewish Identity in
Buddhist India. San Francisco: Harper.
Kaza, Stephanie (1993). Acting with compassion: Buddhism, feminism, and the en
vironmental crisis. In Carol J. Adams (ed.), Ecofeminism and the Sacred, 50-69.
New York: Continuum.
Klein, Anne C. (1995). Meeting the Great Bliss Queen: Buddhists, Feminists, and the Art of the
Self. Boston: Beacon.
Leeuw, Gerardus van der (1969). Religion in Essence and Manifestation. 2 vols. London:
G. Allen & Unwin.
Lopez, Donald, Jr. (1995). Introduction. In Donald S. Lopez, Jr. (ed.), Curators of the
Buddha: The Study of Buddhism Under Colonialism, 1-31. Chicago: University of
Chicago Press.
— (1998). Prisoners of Shangri-La: Tibetan Buddhism and the West. Chicago: University of
Chicago Press.
Macy, Joanna (1991). Mutual Causality in Buddhism and General Systems Theory: The
Dharma of Natural Systems. Albany: Suny.
Maspero, Henri (1981). Taoism and Chinese Religion. Amherst: University of Massachu
setts Press.
Neumaier-Dargyay, Eva K. (1995). Is Buddhism like a tomato? Thoughts about the
transplantation of Buddhism to Germany: A response to Martin Baumann.
Method & Theory in the Study of Religion. 7 (2): 185-194.
Obeyesekere, Gananath (1972). The Two Wheels of Dhamma: Essays on the Theravada
Tradition in India and Ceylon. Penn: American Academy of Religion.
Paul, Diana Y. (1979). Women in Buddhism: Images of the Feminine in Mahayana Tradition.
Berkeley: Asian Humanities Press.
Prothero, Stephen (1996). The White Buddhist: The Asian Odyssey of Henry Steel Olcott.
Indiana: Indiana University Press.
Pye, Michael (1969). The transplantation of religions. Numen 16: 243-239.

This content downloaded from on Thu, 03 Mar 2016 10:45:54 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions

Queen, Christopher S. and Sallie B. King (eds.) (1996). Engaged Buddhism: Buddhist
Liberation Movements in Asia. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.
Queen, Christopher S. (1996). Introduction: The shapes and sources of engaged
Buddhism. In Christopher S. Queen and Sallie B. King (eds.), Engaged Buddhism:
Buddhist Liberation Movements in Asia, 1-44. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.
Sharf, Robert H. (1995). The Zen of Japanese nationalism. In Donald S. Lopez, Jr.
(ed.), Curators of the Buddha: The Study of Buddhism Under Colonialism, 107-161.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Said, Edward (1994) [1978]. Orientalism. New York: Vintage.
Shaw, Miranda (1994). Passionate Enlightenment: Women in Tantric Buddhism. New Jersey:
Princeton University Press.
Snow Lion Fall 1996 Newsletter and Catalogue, 11 (4). Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Publica
Tamney, Joseph B. (1992). American Society in the Buddhist Mirror. New York: Garland.
Thurman, Robert A. F. (1995). Inside Tibetan Buddhism: Rituals and Symbols Revealed.
San Francisco: Collins.
Tweed, Thomas A. (1992). The American Encounter with Buddhism 1844-1912: Victorian
Culture and the Limits of Dissent. Bloomington: Indian University Press.
Whitman, Walt. (1856) [1855], Leaves of Grass. Brooklyn: The Author.

This content downloaded from on Thu, 03 Mar 2016 10:45:54 UTC
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions