Buddhism in America, Revised and Expanded

Buddhism in America, Revised and Expanded

Richard Hughes Seager
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: REV - Revised, 2
Pages: 384
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    Buddhism in America, Revised and Expanded
    Book Description:

    Over the past half century in America, Buddhism has grown from a transplanted philosophy to a full-fledged religious movement, rich in its own practices, leaders, adherents, and institutions. Long favored as an essential guide to this history, Buddhism in America covers the three major groups that shape the tradition -- an emerging Asian immigrant population, native-born converts, and old-line Asian American Buddhists -- and their distinct, yet spiritually connected efforts to remake Buddhism in a Western context.

    This edition updates existing text and adds three new essays on contemporary developments in American Buddhism, particularly the aging of the baby boom population and its effect on American Buddhism's modern character. New material includes revised information on the full range of communities profiled in the first edition; an added study of a second generation of young, Euro-American leaders and teachers; an accessible look at the increasing importance of meditation and neurobiological research; and a provocative consideration of the mindfulness movement in American culture. The volume maintains its detailed account of South and East Asian influences on American Buddhist practices, as well as instances of interreligious dialogue, socially activist Buddhism, and complex gender roles within the community. Introductory chapters describe Buddhism's arrival in America with the nineteenth-century transcendentalists and rapid spread with the Beat poets of the 1950s. The volume now concludes with a frank assessment of the challenges and prospects of American Buddhism in the twenty-first century.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50437-9
    Subjects: Religion, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xx)

    This work is no exception to the general rule that all books are shaped by the experience, interest, and training of their authors. In a book for general readership, there is no call for extensive reflection on methodology or a lengthy examination of the contributions of earlier scholars. But brief attention to how the study of American Buddhism has developed in the last few decades helps to set in perspective the basic historical and interpretive questions that run throughout this book.

    Two decades ago, as a graduate student in the study of religion, I became interested in the history of...

    • Introduction
      (pp. 1-8)

      A long line of mourners wound its way up the hill behind Zen Mountain Monastery (ZMM) in New York’s Catskill Mountains on a stark November morning. We gathered to inter the ashes of John Daido Loori, one of the native-born, Euro-American dharma teachers who emerged in the 1980s as leaders of a new American Buddhism. Born in 1931, Loori was a part of the so-called Beat generation. In his late thirties, he began to study photography under Minor White and to practice Buddhism with a number of teachers, most importantly Taizan Maezumi, who founded the Zen Center of Los Angeles,...

    • CHAPTER ONE The American Buddhist Landscape
      (pp. 9-17)

      Mid-Sunday morning in Los Angeles, drumbeats and the ringing of a bell open a service in a temple of the Buddhist Churches of America (BCA), the oldest institutional form of Buddhism in the United States. Despite the drum and bell, commentators have often observed that BCA services, with their hymn singing and sermons, resemble those of American Protestantism, which is taken to be evidence of the assimilation of the BCA into mainstream American society. To a great degree this is true. After more than a century in the United States, the Japanese Americans who compose the bulk of the BCA...

    • CHAPTER TWO Very Basic Buddhism
      (pp. 18-26)

      The transmission of Buddhism to America is an epoch-making undertaking. For 2,500 years, Buddhism has played a central role in the religious life of Asia. Its philosophical schools, institutions, rituals, and art have informed the lives of countless people from the Iranian plateau to Japan and from Tibet to Indonesia. Throughout many centuries, it has taken on fascinatingly different shapes as it has adapted to many different cultures and regions, a process that is repeating itself as Buddhism moves west and into the United States. Essential in understanding this process is a grasp of the most elementary teachings of the...

    • CHAPTER THREE Three Vehicles
      (pp. 27-38)

      The foundations of American Buddhism rest on a variety of national, regional, and sectarian traditions of Asian Buddhism. There are a great many forms of Buddhism in Asia, but three broad traditions have structured Buddhist thought and practice for many centuries. A comparable development is found in the West, where the teachings of Jesus are generally seen as expressed in Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant traditions of Christianity. In order to understand American Buddhism, it is important to have a general grasp of the leading principles of these traditions and their general place in Asian history and geography.

      These three traditions...

    • CHAPTER FOUR The American Setting
      (pp. 39-54)

      The path of liberation taught by the Buddha was reshaped time and again as it spread throughout Asia, and new, indigenous forms of it are taking shape today in the vibrant Buddhist communities of the United States. The process of adapting the dharma to a new culture is highly complicated, involving the adaptation of religious practices to a new environment, the association of formerly unrelated ideas, and the recasting of received values into new ethical language. It takes many centuries for the dharma to become fully indigenized in a new setting because the immense work of cross-cultural translation requires the...

    • Introduction
      (pp. 55-72)

      Well into the 1960s, Buddhism was often presented in informed but popular circles as part of a generalized image of Asian or Oriental religions. In an earlier generation’s dharma discourse, highly permeable boundaries among traditions like Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism and the practice of yoga, Zen, and other contemplative disciplines fostered a kind of pan-Asian spirituality in the West, which has a long and complex history. Under close examination, much of this earlier dharma discourse reflects the deep influence of German, English, and American romanticism, with its emphasis on spiritual selfhood as expressed in philosophy, literature, and the visual arts....

    • CHAPTER FIVE Jodo Shinshu: America’s Old-Line Buddhists
      (pp. 73-91)

      The Buddhist Churches of America (BCA) is the oldest major institutional form of Buddhism in the United States. Its Japanese American members are among the nation’s Buddhist pioneers, who have the most experience with the challenges involved in creating American forms of the dharma. For over a century, BCA Buddhists followed classic patterns of religious adaptation by immigrants. They brought received philosophies, institutions, ritual practices, and customs to the New World, where they selectively retained, abandoned, and adjusted them to make them work in a new culture. As was the case among Catholics and Jews, their course was determined largely...

    • CHAPTER SIX Soka Gakkai and Its Nichiren Humanism
      (pp. 92-111)

      Soka Gakkai International-USA (SGI-USA) is the American branch of a worldwide Nichiren Buddhist movement that has its origins in Japan. For the past half century, its own unique path toward Americanization has been deeply influenced by tensions between a highly traditional Nichiren priesthood and the innovative spirit of the laity. During these decades, priests and laypeople together formed an organization called Nichiren Shoshu of America (NSA). But long-standing conflicts of interest between the two parties erupted in 1991 into a formal schism. Since then, the movement has split into two organizations, the smaller Nichiren Shoshu Temple (NST) led by the...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN Zen and Its Flagship Institutions
      (pp. 112-134)

      The Americanization of Zen Buddhism, the most prominent of the Japanese Mahayana traditions in this country, has been fostered by a broad movement to revitalize and modernize Zen institutions and practices that began in nineteenth-century Japan. At that time, Zen monastic institutions came under attack from Shinto nationalists. Income-producing estates that supported Zen monasteries were confiscated and an extensive Zen parish system that served laypeople was dismantled. Zen clergy increasingly abandoned celibacy for marriage and family, with the direct encouragement of the state. Many Zen leaders also were caught up in the rising tide of Japanese nationalism, only to face...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT The Tibetan Milieu
      (pp. 135-157)

      At least three interrelated forces have been at work in the transmission and adaptation of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition to America over the course of the last several decades. All were set in motion by the Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1950 and by the creation of a Tibetan community in exile in 1959, after the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s political and spiritual leader, escaped to India, eventually followed by about a million Tibetans. Given Tibet’s unique circumstances, the cross-cultural transmission of its religious traditions has been particularly dramatic, as elements of an entire civilization that was suddenly shattered were selectively...

    • CHAPTER NINE The Theravada Spectrum
      (pp. 158-179)

      Theravada Buddhists in this country can trace their origins to the World’s Parliament of Religions of 1893, when Anagarika Dharmapala presented a stirring vision of the Buddha as a religious reformer whose teachings could heal the modern schism between science and religion. But America’s first Theravada temple, the Buddhist Vihara Society in Washington, was established only in 1966, and it functioned primarily as a center for diplomats and foreign visitors to the capital city. Since then, the tradition has assumed a very prominent role in American Buddhism and, due to its size and complexity, it is likely to have an...

    • CHAPTER TEN Other Pacific Rim Migrations
      (pp. 180-204)

      Immigration and the complex social forces associated with it gave rise to the Japanese Jodo Shinshu community, which through the trials and errors of successive generations has struck a balance between being ethnic Buddhist and mainstream American. Immigrants formed the original Nichiren groups in this country, and they still contribute to the rich multiculturalism of Nichiren Shoshu Temple and SGI-USA. Tibetan lamas, whether as alien residents, exiles, or new citizens, are essential to the practice of Tibetan Buddhism and Vajrayana in the United States. And despite the impact of literature in generating interest in Zen in this country, Japanese immigrants...

    • Introduction
      (pp. 205-216)

      In the first edition of Buddhism in America, I looked at three prominent issues that cross traditions—gender equity, socially engaged Buddhism, and religious dialogue. Developments related to all three took on a heroic, trailblazing character, as Euro-American Buddhists were beginning to define themselves and their platforms collectively and in public. Sex and alcohol scandals perpetrated by men put a spotlight on the importance of women’s practice and teaching. Bold visions of how meditation can contribute to social change challenged many who came to Buddhism seeing practice as a personal quest for enlightenment, which was assumed to entail a degree...

    • CHAPTER ELEVEN Gender Equity
      (pp. 217-232)

      Between 1960 and the turn of the century, immigrants and converts wrestled with questions from how to incorporate temples in accord with American law to the economics of sustaining dharma centers and the education and training of subsequent generations. But the most extensive public discussion about how to adapt the dharma to America and its ideals took place among converts, who saw the emergence of the first generation of nativeborn teachers in the 1980s as signaling the coming of age of their community. An examination of three issues—concerns about gender equity, the means of orienting Buddhism to social issues,...

    • CHAPTER TWELVE Socially Engaged Buddhism
      (pp. 233-247)

      The drive for gender equity among American Buddhists is in many respects a reflection of socially engaged Buddhism, a movement to apply Buddhist principles to issues in contemporary society. Buddhism has had a long history of engagement with social issues in Asia. The Buddha defied the caste system, a rigid social and religious hierarchy, when he formed the original sangha, and in the third century B.C.E., the emperor Ashoka embraced the principles of the dharma in running his empire. Throughout many centuries, the Buddhist emphasis on compassion for all sentient beings has been expressed in charitable activities, education, and caring...

    • CHAPTER THIRTEEN Intra-Buddhist and Interreligious Dialogue
      (pp. 248-263)

      The presence in the United States of many forms of Buddhism has provided unprecedented opportunities for practitioners from a wide range of schools and traditions to engage in the creative exchange of ideas. Sometimes intra-Buddhist dialogue results in greater mutual understanding and cooperative ventures. But it also has led to the development of new and eclectic forms of philosophy and practice that are uniquely American. At the same time, interfaith dialogue has been proceeding among Buddhists, Christians, and Jews. These conversations are introducing elements of the dharma to people in America’s churches and synagogues and have inspired some Christians and...

    • CHAPTER FOURTEEN Making Some Sense of Americanization
      (pp. 264-280)

      During the last forty years, Buddhism in the United States has been transformed from the religion of a relatively small number of Asian Americans and an esoteric preoccupation of a much smaller European American avantgarde into what amounts to a mass movement. Shaped by immigration, conversion, schism, and exile, Buddhism is now thriving to such a degree that it is impossible to exhaustively catalogue its variations and combinations in this country. Perhaps as many as three quarters of America’s Buddhists are in new immigrant communities, whose contributions to the long-term development of the dharma remain particularly difficult to assess and...

    (pp. 281-298)
    (pp. 299-304)
  9. NOTES
    (pp. 305-314)
    (pp. 315-320)
    (pp. 321-332)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 333-362)