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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. 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. To be sure, we still get occasional hints of something suspicious (as in the campaign fund-raising stories of Al Gore and the devious Taiwanese Buddhist nuns), but for the most part, Buddhism seems to have slipped free from our old images of an alien Oriental paganism, blending smoothly into the American scene as a familiar, if still somewhat exotic, feature of our cosmopolitan new multiculture.
The transformation of Buddhism from an alien Asiatic paganism to a modern, international spiritual resource capable of blending into the American scene owes much to the work of western academics.
The academic study of Buddhism has come a long way since the 19th century, and we now know enough to see clearly how little that early western image of Buddhism corresponds to the actual history, teachings, 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. Recently, when Stanford's Center for Buddhist Studies organized a one-day retreat on Buddhism for the Continuing Studies Program, 100 people had signed up by noon on the first day of registration, and the list had to be closed. The food may be sushi instead of hot dogs, the games may be mahjong instead of bingo, but the functions are more or less like that old-time religion that many nightstand Buddhists and white Buddhist converts are looking to escape.
The three basic forms of American Buddhism -- Zen, Vajrayana, and Vipassana -- represent only a small fraction of the various forms of Buddhism actually present in America. 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. Of all the forms of Buddhism in America, Vipassana comes closest to institutionalizing the notion of Buddhism as a nonreligious spiritual resource. Buddhism in America is characterized by a very broad sectarian, ethnic, and cultural diversity.
The Buddhist traditions that have most influenced the development of American Buddhism during the past fifty years are Zen, Tibetan Buddhism as mediated through such popularizers as Trungpa Rinpoche, and more recently Theravada Vipassana meditation. Whatever its forms, Buddhism will become an increasingly important part of the American landscape. The divide between Asians and non-Asians is often described as one of the main characteristics of Buddhism in America.
The majority of Asian Buddhists attend Asian temples and non-Asian Buddhists go to meditation centers, but there are important exceptions to this pattern.
In his book OLD WISDOM IN THE NEW WORLD: AMERICANIZATION IN TWO IMMIGRANT THERAVADA BUDDHIST TEMPLES, Paul D. And across the country some Asians do visit the meditation centers that are attended primarily by non-Asian Buddhists. In interviews, both Asians and non-Asians often report coming to Buddhist practice and Buddhist organizations in the United States in response to stressful life events.
Buddhism -- like most other religions in America -- includes a tremendous diversity of beliefs, practices, and cultural styles. American Buddhism includes the wealthy and the poor, single people and multigeneration families, immigrants with advanced technical degrees, and refugees who can barely communicate in English. But what sets Buddhism apart from other American religions -- at the present historical moment, at any rate -- is that the overwhelming majority of its members belong to two rather unusual groups. Meanwhile, 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, leaving young Americans far more receptive than before to things nonwestern (including nonwestern religions, above all Buddhism).
While this implies a certain doctrinal flexibility, it does not mean that particular Buddhist communities see no difference between themselves and other Buddhist groups. Given this great diversity, there have been some attempts in recent years to find areas of consensus among Buddhist groups: to participate in an annual ecumenical ritual, for example, or even to establish a list of common beliefs and values that can be shared by all.
Be that as it may, one thing seems certain: that American Buddhism will continue to change.
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. 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. Buddhist ideas appear in New Age religions, psychology, medicine, and even sports and business. The domestic news almost never treats Buddhist groups as "cults" or plays up the (not uncommon) sexual misadventures of Buddhist leaders. It is often said that we have adopted Asian Americans as our "model minority," and the media seem to have adopted Buddhism as our model minority religion. In the 19th century, while newly arrived immigrant Chinese were worshipping the Buddha in their temples in California, Caucasian Americans were beginning to read about the Buddha in books produced by scholars of classical Indian languages.
Still, the projected image remains in our books and minds -- an image much more attractive and influential than all the more sophisticated studies we now produce, describing the often bizarre and alien views that Buddhists actually held and detailing the history of a religion riddled with myth and ritual, superstition and magic. At the Stanford retreat, about half the people came one hour early to participate in an optional instruction session on meditation taught by Buddhist monks. There is no national Buddhist organization; there is very little interest in anything like an ecumenical movement.
First, all commentators on the sociology of American Buddhism are quick to point out that we are dealing here with two distinct kinds of communities. Buddhists from China and Japan, of course, have been living in America since the 19th century, but especially since the relaxation of quotas on Asian immigration in the 1960s, the number and variety of Asian Buddhists in America have grown dramatically. For the most part, laity in immigrant Buddhism, like laity in Asia, don't engage in meditation -- a practice for the ascetic monks who are imitating the Buddha's lifestyle of renunciation. Most notable is the Nichiren Shoshu of America (NSA) or Soka Gakkai, the American offspring of a large Japanese Buddhist lay movement.
In fact, they exclude most of the forms followed by the immigrant Buddhist population that makes up the majority of Buddhists in this country. Where Zen has appealed to Americans as a kind of this-worldly asceticism, 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, an ancient magical realm of the spirit that preceded the modern disenchantment of the world. Distinctions such as convert versus immigrant Buddhism or American versus Asian Buddhism necessarily gloss over this diversity.
The diversity of Buddhist expressions in America in particular, and the West more generally, is a unique chapter in the history of Buddhism.
Religious ecumenism in this country will be seen more and more not simply in terms of Protestant, Catholic, and Jew, but Buddhism, Hindu, Muslim, Santeria, and other traditions as well. Across the United States, Asians and non-Asians share space in Theravada Buddhist organizations.
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, though at different times to practice different rituals. Many Asians and non-Asians alike practice Buddhism privately at home, as well as communally in temples or meditation centers. It includes those whose Buddhism emphasizes the importance of living a moral life and those who view moral rules as too constraining, those who consider contributing to the monastic community ("making merit") to be a central Buddhist practice and those who focus exclusively on meditation.
On the one hand are recent converts to Buddhism who are mostly of non-Asian ancestry; on the other are recent Asian immigrants to America, many of whose families have been Buddhist for generations.

As recently as 1960, the overwhelming majority of American Buddhists -- at that time a tiny minority on the American religious scene -- were second- and third-generation Asian Americans, mostly of Japanese ancestry. American Buddhism as we know it today is largely a product of these two simultaneous cultural changes, which brought thousands of Asian Buddhists into America and thousands of non-Asian Americans into Buddhism. New converts to Buddhism -- like new converts to any religion -- have for the most part been young, single, and idealistic, and they have often viewed those who are Buddhist by heritage as less religiously devoted than themselves.
New Buddhists include not only those who focus on meditation (drawing primarily from Zen, Tibetan Buddhism, 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).
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. Ironically, though, much of the drive for such ecumenism has come not from Asian-American Buddhists but from new Buddhists of non-Asian ancestry.
As refugees and immigrants from Asia become acclimated to their new environment, certain changes in the style of Buddhist practice are inevitable. Ethnicity: Of the estimated 3 to 4 million Buddhists in the United States, the vast majority are Asian Americans.
Practice: There is no disagreement among researchers that Asian immigrant Buddhist communities and American convert communities engage in significantly different Buddhist practices. Democratization: The democratization of Buddhism in America is evident in three essential aspects of American Buddhist communities. Adaptation: Some North American Buddhists are concerned about the implications of modifying or altering Buddhist tradition in the name of adaptation.
Most profit from such encounters." As we try to understand how Buddhism will become American, we impatiently expect that the process is already complete. The ideals of personal liberation and perfect enlightenment have been pursued by Buddhist contemplatives over the past 2,500 years. Buddhist values are cited in social movements for feminism, peace, ecology, and animal rights. 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.
Rather, 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.
These people were, for that session at least, operating as "client Buddhists." Because of Buddhism's odd status as a "nonreligious" spiritual resource, Americans seem to feel relatively free to drop in on Buddhist events and participate in Buddhist practices.
Some use the unfortunate terms "American Buddhists" and "ethnic Buddhists," or the fighting words "white" and "yellow" Buddhists. We now have representatives from virtually all the Buddhist cultures of Asia -- Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Tibet, and Mongolia -- as well as newer Buddhist groups continuing to enter from Japan and Taiwan. The American organization is very large, with centers throughout the country, and the ethnic makeup is diverse, mixing together not only Japanese and Euro-Americans but also many African-American converts.
But they are the forms that have most appealed to convert Buddhists and the Buddhist sympathizers from whom most converts are drawn. How this style of Buddhism will adapt to America, after Americans have become bored with Tibetan politics and leadership of the groups has passed to the American converts, remains one of the more interesting questions in the future of Buddhism in America.
Its name comes from a Pali word meaning "observation" or "discernment," and it refers to certain forms of Buddhist meditation. In such books, Buddhism, even Vipassana itself, has almost completely disappeared, submerged in a spiritual soup in which the 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." It will be interesting to watch what will happen to this "nonreligious" Buddhist spirituality as the Vipassana movement grows into national organizations. Even within a single Buddhist sectarian tradition, such as Japanese Jodo Shinshu (the Buddhist Churches of America), individual churches will vary considerably depending on the nature of the congregation. Buddhist sectarianism and its development in different cultural traditions are nothing new, so in a sense, we're witnessing a new version of an old story. Interreligious dialogue, I hope, will promote better understanding among diverse religious traditions that are being woven into the American social fabric. It includes those who believe that our actions (in Buddhist terminology, 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.
But with the liberalization of American immigration policy in 1965 and the youth rebellion that swept the globe in the late 1960s, this situation underwent a dramatic change. Post-1965 immigrants to America, by contrast, have generally arrived not as individuals but as families.
Just as a working-class Pentecostal and an upper middle-class Episcopalian understand Christianity in very different ways, and just as a Reform Jew and a member of a Hasidic community envision very different types of Judaism, so Buddhists of diverse social, ethnic, and sectarian backgrounds are likely to continue to participate in and create quite distinct communities. A Cambodian Buddhist who happens upon a service being held by Japanese American Buddhists would see little that strikes her as Buddhist, while a Thai Buddhist layman would find the imagery of a Chinese Buddhist temple foreign indeed. And these ecumenical moves -- while often based on a genuine desire to establish a broader community -- have been accompanied by criticisms of many of the practices of particular Asian Buddhist groups as mere cultural baggage. Not necessarily, for one of the core teachings of Buddhism -- found in all Buddhist cultures, including those of North America -- is that all conditioned things are subject to change. With the exception of those who have taken up the practices of Soka Gakkai, American converts' almost exclusive focus on meditation has created conflict with and concern in some Asian immigrant communities. First, it is apparent in changing patterns of authority in various Buddhist sanghas, highlighted by a reevaluation of the nature of the relationship between monastic and lay communities. The socially engaged Buddhist movement in the United States represents a radical yet creative re-visioning of traditional Buddhist approaches to societal issues, and as it gains in maturity, it promises to permeate the American Buddhist environment. Victor Sogen Hori, a Canadian Rinzai Zen priest and academic professor, for example, has criticized the ritual life, methods of teaching and learning, social organization, and meditation practice in Japanese and American Zen. Buddhist temples pop up in unlikely places, from Hacienda Heights, California to the cornfields of Iowa. We can even adopt Buddhist values or practices without converting to the Buddhist religion. No one seems to know just how many millions of Buddhists there are in America, in part because no one has figured out who "counts" as a Buddhist.
No one associates the state religion of Buddhism with the nasty politics in Burma; no one implicates the Buddhists of Sri Lanka in the bloody campaign against the Hindu Tamils.
Many of them wanted to talk during the discussion sessions not about the scholarly presentations on Buddhist history and culture, but about liberal American interests such as ecology and social justice.
They would rarely think of dropping in at a synagogue for prayer if they weren't Jewish or taking the Eucharist if they weren't Catholic, but joining in a Buddhist meditation retreat seems to come quite naturally. But for the most part, American Buddhism is splintered into many different groups and factions, each with its own organizational structure, teachings, and practices. Of course, there is much variation in the types of Buddhism found in these communities, but sociologically speaking, they typically have deep roots in and reflect the ways of the old country. 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.

NSA is almost the only form of Buddhism that has significantly penetrated into the America that lies beyond the affluent, educated classes.
Although this Tibetan Buddhism has attracted more or less the same segment of American society looking for more or less the same spiritual results, its religious style is rather different from Zen. They lack most forms of traditional Buddhist worship and depend little on the categories and vocabulary of traditional Buddhist theology.
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. American Buddhism, in short, resembles American religion in general: its most striking feature is its variety. Buddhists from Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia, and East Asia poured into the United States in record numbers. They are less prone to single-minded religious fervor and more concerned with passing on their cultural heritage to the next generation, including not only Buddhism but other values and practices as well. Members of a Thai temple chant Buddhist texts in the traditional Pali language, while Japanese Buddhists sing hymns accompanied by an organ.
It is worth considering the possibility that such attempts at establishing unanimity reflect a western (especially Christian) need for consensus, not traditional Buddhist values.
With admirable consistency, Buddhists have applied this dictum to the institutional forms of their own religious tradition, even predicting (in a number of scriptures contained in the Buddhist canon) that Buddhism as we know it will eventually disappear. In recent years, the relationship between the two Buddhist communities has become extremely tenuous, and any potential for future cooperation remains highly uncertain. Second, it can be witnessed in changing gender roles, especially the prominence of women in American Buddhism. 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. Thomas Tweed, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina, suggests that we need to take into account a large number of people who fall into a category he calls "nightstand Buddhists" -- people who read about Buddhism and are attracted to what they read, some of whom may even describe themselves as Buddhist, but who don't belong to any Buddhist organization. Rather, Buddhists tend to be [depicted as] peaceful victims of Asian politics -- Vietnamese monks burning themselves in protest against the government or Tibetan nuns tortured and jailed for their demonstrations against Chinese rule.
But with these bits overlooked or explained away, for the most part Buddhism seemed safely familiar and modern, surprisingly compatible with a scientific worldview and western way of life -- in short, a religion ideal for disaffected Christians and Jews looking for a spiritual alternative. More than a few wanted to share their personal understanding of what Buddhism really is and what Buddhist values are or ought to be.
Zen Buddhism developed in medieval China and then spread throughout East Asia to Japan, Korea, and Vietnam.
Instead, they often draw heavily on the concepts and techniques of American psychology -- especially the types known as transpersonal psychology and the Human Potential Movement.
Culturally distinctive forms of immigrant Buddhism will gradually change and adapt if they are to survive, but these distinctive traditions will not be replaced by a lowest-common-denominator, "shopping-basket" Buddhism either. To the extent that they are aware of these new (first-generation) Buddhists at all, heritage Buddhists have tended to view their single-minded religious enthusiasm as excessive. Finally, it can be seen in the manner in which individuals pursuing a nontraditional lifestyle, particularly with regard to sexual preferences, are finding a meaningful role in American Buddhist communities. Every attempt by Americans to comprehend Zen intellectually and to implement it in practice has already contributed to its Americanization. Some Buddhist groups, in fact, depend on such drop-in clients for income and cater to them with specially prepared programs.
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. More commonly, in those congregations where the clerical leadership has attracted a convert following from outside the ethnic group, it is quite usual for parallel programs to develop -- one for the ethnic community, based on traditional Asian Buddhist lay beliefs and practices, 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. It is by far the oldest and most successful form of Buddhism in America, introduced around the turn of the 20th century, discussed in both popular and academic books, and, at least since the Zen boom of the 1960s, widely practiced in many centers throughout the country.
It is promulgated in America not by Burmese, but by American converts to the movement -- especially by the Insight Meditation Society. Abhayagiri Buddhist Monastery, a community of white monastics in Redwood Valley, California, is supported by lay Asian and non-Asian Buddhists alike, as is Metta Forest Monastery, a Thai temple near San Diego led by American-born Thanissaro Bhikkhu.
In particular, 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.
A more likely scenario, for the immediate future, is that a colorful -- and constantly changing -- array of Buddhist groups will continue to enrich the American religious landscape. Stephen Batchelor, the author of BUDDHISM WITHOUT BELIEFS, is one of the few scholar-practitioners who identifies Buddhist spiritual practice and applied Buddhist ethics as interpenetrating and complementary.
As a result of this democratizing process, American Buddhism has moved away from the hierarchical patterns of Asian Buddhism toward an egalitarianism that is more consistent with American democracy. One of the best-known Buddhist monasteries in America, Tassajara, supports itself with a summer guest season, when it turns itself into a spiritual resort. In this sense, hereditary Buddhists are more like the majority of traditional, mainstream Christians and Jews than white convert Buddhists. In recent decades, there have been popular Zen teachers from China, Korea, and Vietnam, but American Zen is dominated by styles imported from Japan (hence, the Japanese name "Zen"). New Buddhists, for their part, have often been impatient with the more worldly concerns of heritage Buddhists struggling to adapt to a new language, a new educational system, and a new job market in their adopted land. Terms like "nightstand Buddhist" or "Buddhist sympathizer" don't really capture the full range of these people's relationship to Buddhism. The American versions are typically a package of traditional forms of monastic practice wrapped in western philosophy and psychology. On the contrary, a central theme in Buddhism from its earliest days is that different teachings and practices are appropriate for different people. We also need a subcategory like "freelance Buddhist" -- those who identify themselves as Buddhist without belonging to any Buddhist organization, and perhaps another category called "client Buddhist" -- those who make use of Buddhist organizations without belonging to them. At Ammayatarama Buddhist Monastery in Seattle, for example, two Thai monks and two American-born monks are in residence.
In addition, the fact that Buddhism assumes multiple lifetimes implies that there is no ultimate urgency to "get it right" this time around. Though the prospect of a nearly infinite series of rebirths is generally viewed with dread rather than fascination in Asian Buddhist societies, this scenario still serves to undercut the tendency toward one-lifetime fundamentalism.

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