View Full Version : What's an American Buddhist

24 Jun 12, 02:26
I was looking at this article - and as we are an international community, wondering if anyone had any relevant comments in relation to Buddhism in the western world in general.

What’s an American Buddhist?

By William Wilson

QuinnAmerican Buddhism’s numbers are booming. Published just over three years ago, an American Religious Identification Survey survey showed that from the years 1990 to 2000, Buddhism grew 170 percent in North America. By all indications that remarkable rate of growth continues unabated.

Why is a faith founded under a Bodhi tree in India 2,500 years ago enjoying a newfound popularity in America today?

There is no such thing as a historic North American Buddhist tradition, a fact that is crucial to understanding and facilitating Buddhism’s blossoming. This growth is all the more remarkable given that Buddhism was arguably the most recent import of a major religion to North America from the East. It’s important to note that Western practitioners meditating in Massachusetts or applying the Eight-fold Path in Portland often reach back to the established Buddhist traditions of Sri Lanka or Thailand, Tibet, or Vietnam, Myanmar or Korea, China, or Japan. But that’s not the only way to be Buddhist.

Some North American authors have suggested that North Americans might consider foregoing any such wholesale adoptions of Eastern traditions in deference to gradually developing their own.

While not necessarily endorsing this view, even the Tibetan teacher Shamar Rinpoche posited that “Tibetans can benefit from being less sectarian, and certainly non-Tibetans [in context principally Europeans and North Americans] have no need for such distinctions.”



24 Jun 12, 04:14
People don't have to suggest or endorse the view that Western Buddhists should develop their own methods or schools of Buddhism. That is because Western Buddhists ARE developing their own methods or schools of Buddhism. Teaching of Buddhism will evolve with or without people's approval, and it won't be the first time that happened either.

The first split of Buddhism between Mahasanghikas and Sthaviras were over the sangha's disciplinary issues shortly after Buddha's passing. If Mahasanghikas and Sthaviras, who are culturally similar, can split over the rule of sangha, wouldn't it be natural that Western Buddhists will evolve their own methods? After all, there is a big chasm between the cultural background of Western and Eastern Buddhists. Just witness the discussion on 'super-naturalism' on this forum; 'super-naturalism' would not even be a topic among Eastern Buddhists, (At least the Chinese variety.) because it is taken for granted that 'super-naturalism' is part of reality and there is nothing 'super-natural' about them.

One more thought on the following quote from the article:

North American Buddhists are likely to create their own traditions and schools of thought, but they should do so with the awareness that they are forging a new Buddhist culture, not the ‘true’ Buddhist culture.

If they don’t recognize this fact, the same problem of adaptation would also apply, hypothetically, to any developed North American Buddhist tradition 900 years in the future either by its devout ecclesiastical adherents or when first introduced to the population of some other culture that had never been exposed to the teachings of the Buddha.

Again, just witness the disagreements between 'Mahayana' and 'Theravada' over certain aspects of Buddha's teaching will demonstrate that this is also inevitable.

Buddhism teaches anicca and anatta. Anicca and anatta apply to the teaching of Buddhism as well.

I am actually very curious about the eventual form of Western Buddhism. Just like I consider Ch'an to be an eventual form of Chinese Buddhism (along with Pure-land and Humanistic), I very much look forward to the form that Western Buddhism would take. (If I am still alive at that time.)