Skip to main content Accessibility help

Describing the Elephant: Buddhism in America

  • Peter N. Gregory


The expanding volume of publications on Buddhism in America in the last two and a half decades bears witness to the emergence of an exciting new subfield within American religion, on the one hand, and within Buddhist studies, on the other. For Americanists, it reflects a growing recognition of the ways in which non-Western religions are altering the American religious landscape. As such, it is part of an emerging awareness of the increasingly pluralistic and multicultural nature of American society at the turn of the millennium. For Buddhologists, the spread of Buddhism in America opens a new chapter in the long history of the geographical and cultural diffusion of the religion since its founding in India some 2,500 years ago. This new subfield thus holds the prospect of studying what promises to be a momentous development in the history of Buddhism, and it affords an opportunity to study the acculturation of the tradition as it is actually occurring. Clearly this is a field where both Americanists and Buddhologists have much to contribute and much to learn from one another.



Hide All


I would like to thank my new colleagues at Smith—Floyd Cheung, Tom Derr, Dan Horowitz, Jamie Hubbard, and Peter Rose—for their helpful comments and suggestions.

1. There are now several thriving Buddhist publishers, the most productive of which are: Shambhala Publications, Wisdom Publications, Dharma Publications, and Snow Lion Publications—all of which are, in different ways, associated with various American Tibetan Buddhist groups. Mention should also be made of Parallax Press (focused on the work of Thich Nhat Hanh and “Engaged Buddhism”), Dharma Drum (connected with the Chinese Ch'an Master Sheng-yen), and Dharma Communications (connected with Zen Mountain Monastery).

2. Prebish, Charles S., “The Academic Study of Buddhism in America: A Silent Sangha,” in American Buddhism: Methods and Findings in Recent Scholarshrp, ed. Williams, Duncan RyŪken and Queen, Christopher S. (Surrey, U.K.: Curzon Press, 1999), 183214 , appears in virtually identical form as chapter 4 in his Luminous Passages: The Practice and Study of Buddhism in America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), 173-202; the chapter by Phillip Hammond and David Machacek (“Supply and Demand: The Appeal of American Buddhism,” 100-114) summarizes the preliminary findings of their study of Sōka Gakkai that is now available in book form, Soka Gakkai in America: Accommodation and Conversion (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999); the chapter by Richard Hughes Seager (“Buddhist Worlds in the U.S. A.: A Survey of the Territory,” 238-61) is a preview of his book, Buddhism in America (New York: Columbia University Press, 1999); the chapter by James William Coleman (“The New Buddhism: Some Empirical Findings,” 91-99) presents preliminary findings of a study that has now been published in book form as The New Buddhism: The Western Transformation of an Ancient Tradition (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000); and the chapter by Penny Van Esterik (“Ritual and the Performance of Buddhist Identity among Lao Buddhists in North America,” 57-68) presents much material already published in her fine study, Taking Refuge: Lao Buddhists in North America (Tempe: Arizona State University, 1992).

3. For example, Stuart Chandler's “Placing Palms Together: Religious and Cultural Dimensions of the Hsi Lai Temple Political Donations Controversy,” in American Buddhism, ed. Williams and Queen, 36-56.

4. Especially “Issues of Ethnicity in the Buddhist Churches of America” by Kenneth K. Tanaka, 3-19; “Japanese American Zen Temples: Cultural Identity and Economics” by Senryō Asai and Duncan Ryūken Williams, 20-35; “Night-Stand Buddhists and Other Creatures: Sympathizers, Adherents, and the Study of Religion” by Thomas A. Tweed, 71-90; and “Local Inter-Buddhist Associations in North America” by Paul David Numrich, 117—42; all in American Buddhism, ed. Williams and Queen.

5. Material in chapter 3 (“Seeking American Buddhist Sanghas: North American Buddhist Communities,” 94-172), for example, overlaps with some of the same material presented in chapter 1 (“American Buddhism: A Brief History,” 1-50), and discussion of various issues in the field are treated in a fragmented way in unconnected sections of the book.

6. The material in chapter 1 is almost wholly derivative; the discussion of the issues in chapter 2 is based on those raised by Tanaka in the epilogue to The Faces of Buddhism in America, ed. Charles S. Prebish and Kenneth K. Tanaka (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), 287-98; the different groups profiled in chapter 3 are treated in other sources; and chapter 4 is an almost verbatim republication of Prebish's contribution to American Buddhism, ed. Williams and Queen. The one chapter that launches into an important new area, the fifth on the cybersangha, summarizes what can be found on the major Buddhist websites but offers little reflection on the medium itself.

7. It abounds in inconsistencies, errors of fact, mischaracterizations, and uncritical use of scholarship. It also distorts and misrepresents other scholars’ positions, the most egregious example of which can be seen in Prebish's discussion of the issue of the two Buddhisms. Prebish misconstrues Jan Nattier's contribution to this issue and misrepresents the position of Rodney Stark and Williams Sims Bainbridge, on whose work Nattier draws.

8. Richard Hughes Seager, “Buddhist Worlds in the U.S.A.: A Survey of the Territory,” in American Buddhism, ed. Williams and Queen, 238.

9. For an excellent review of the earlier literature, see Tweed, Thomas, “Asian Religions in the United States: Reflections on an Emerging Subfield,” in Religious Diversity and American Religious History, ed. Cosner, Walter H. Jr. and Twiss, Sumner B. (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1997), 189217 .

10. Numrich, “Local Inter-Buddhist Associations in North America,” 123, based on figures from Schaefer, Richard T., Racial and Ethnic Groups, 5th ed. (New York: HarperCollins, 1993), 326 .

11. Layman, Emma McCloy, Buddhism in America (Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1976); Prebish, Charles S., American Buddhism (North Scituate, Mass.: Duxbury Press, 1979); and Fields, Rick, How the Swans Came to the Lake: A Narrative History of Buddhism in America (Boston: Shambhala, 1981).

12. Numrich, Paul, Old Wisdom in the New World: Americanization in Two Immigrant Theravada Buddhist Temples (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1996); mention should also be made of Van Esterik's excellent ethnographic study of Lao refugee Buddhists in Toronto, Taking Refuge.

13. As Irene Lin notes, “The religious experience of Chinese Americans must take into account the perspective of Chinese Americans themselves” (“Journey to the Far West: Chinese Buddhism in America,” in New Spiritual Homes: Religion and Asian Americans, ed. David K. Yoo [Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1999], 136).

14. Thomas A. Tweed suggests 1844, when an English translation of a chapter of Eugène Burnouf's French translation of the Lotus Sūtra was published in Dial. In May of that year, Edward Elbridge Salisbury introduced Burnouf's work on Buddhism to a more academic audience in an address delivered at the first annual meeting of the American Oriental Society (The American Encounter with Buddhism, 1844-1912: Victorian Culture and the Limits of Dissent [Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992], xix). Another often cited benchmark is the construction of the first Chinese temples in San Francisco in 1853, although as Stuart Chandler notes, they cannot be characterized “as strictly ‘Buddhist,’ since in most cases a variety of Chinese Taoist, folk, and Buddhist figures received shelter and homage together” (Stuart Chandler, “Chinese Buddhism in America: Identity and Practice,” in The Faces of Buddhism in America, ed. Prebish and Tanaka, 16).

15. In One Nation under God: Religion in Contemporary American Society (New York: Harmony Books, 1993), Barry A. Komin and Seymour P. Lachman estimate that there were between one and two million Buddhists in America in the beginning of the nineties (3). A1994 feature on American Buddhism on the ABC Nightly News with Peter Jennings estimated that there were between four and six million Buddhists in the United States.

16. Baumann, Martin, “The Dharma Has Come West: A Survey of Recent Studies and Sources,” Journal of Buddhist Ethics 4 (1997): 198 . Baumann's figures are cited as authoritative by Queen in his introduction to American Buddhism (xv), by Prebish in his Luminous Passage (57 and 241), and by Seager in his Buddhism in America (11). Unfortunately Baumann says nothing about how he arrived at them. See also Baumann's “Buddhism in the West: Phases, Orders and the Creation of an Integrative Buddhism,” Internationales Asienforum 27, nos. 3-4 (1996): 345-62.

17. See Jan Nattier, “Who Is a Buddhist? Charting the Landscape of Buddhist America,” in The Faces of Buddhism in America, ed. Prebish and Tanaka, 185.

18. See Tweed, “Night-Stand Buddhists,” 79-80, and Prebish, Luminous Passage, 56.

19. For example, Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in Worcester, recently stated: “There was a time that I considered myself to be a Buddhist, but I actually don't consider myself to be one now, and although I teach Buddhist meditation, it's not with the aim of people becoming Buddhist. It's with the aim of people becoming buddhas” (see his “Toward the Mainstreaming of American Dharma Practice,” in Buddhism in America: Proceedings of the First Buddhism in America Conference, ed. Al Rapaport [Rutland, Vt: Charles E. Tuttle Co., 1998], 479).

20. In his Zen Spirit, Christian Spirit: The Place of Zen in Christian Life, for example, Robert E. Kennedy, a Jesuit priest who received authorization to teach Zen from Bernard Tetsugen Glassman Roshi in 1991, wrote: “I never have thought of myself as anything but Catholic and I certainly have never thought of myself as Buddhist” (New York: Continuum, 1996), 13.

21. Tweed, “Night-Stand Buddhists,” 72.

22. Tweed explains: Those “who read books on Buddhist teaching and practice at night before bed and in the morning practice meditation as they learned it from one of the many how-to manuals” (Tweed, “Asian Religions in the United States,” 205). “Sympathizers are those who have some sympathy for a religion but do not embrace it exclusively or fully When asked, they would not identify themselves as Buddhists” (Tweed, “Night-Stand Buddhists,” 74). Tweed adds that sympathizers have played an important role in American Buddhism since the 1890s, one prominent example being the philosopher Paul Carus, who did so much to promote American understanding of Buddhism at the end of nineteenth century and in the early decades of the twentieth Century.

23. Nattier, “Who Is a Buddhist?” 187. Adapting categories developed by Rodney Stark and William Sims Bainbridge in the second chapter of their The Future of Religion: Secularization, Revival and Cult Formation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), Nattier suggests that Americans who are involved in Buddhism could be classified in terms of their degree of participation as (1) audience (those who “attend an occasional lecture, read an occasional book, or perhaps subscribe to a periodical”), (2) dient (those who engage “in direct interaction with a member of the group, but this relationship … is limited to the client's use of certain techniques received from the teacher”), and (3) members of a movement (involving “a genuine conversion to a new religious perspective and the renunciation of one's previous commitments”) (ibid., 185-86). “Members in residence at the San Francisco Zen Center, for example, might fit the definition of participants in a cult movement, but the many readers of Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind (written by the founder of that center) would bear a strong resemblance to members of an audience cult. In between we might find Zen practitioners who have learned the basic technique of meditation at the Zen Center, but now practice meditation on their own without any continuing contact with the group (thus belonging to Stark and Bainbridge's category of client cult)” (187).

24. See Diana L. Eck and the Harvard Pluralism Project, eds., On Common Ground: World Religions in America CD-ROM (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997).

25. Tweed, “Asian Religions in the United States,” 189.

26. Morreale also lists a fourth category of meditation centers, “Buddhayāna,” which refers to 135 nonsectarian groups (11 percent of his total) such as the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order. Morreale, Don, ed., The Complete Guide to Buddhist America (Boston: Shambala, 1998), xvii .

27. Ibid., xvi.

28. It is just such a presumption of elite, educated, middle-class, and mostly white American converts interested in Buddhist meditation practice to represent “American Buddhism” that so rankles some Asian American Buddhists. The same arrogance (all the more offensive because it is unwitting) is reflected in the assumptions underlying the organization of the conference whose proceedings were published in Buddhism in America, ed. Rapaport.

29. Morreale, ed., The Complete Guide to Buddhist America, xviii.

30. Chandler, “Chinese Buddhism in America,” 17.

31. Paul David Numrich, “Theravāda Buddhism in America: Prospects for the Sangha,” in The Faces of Buddhism in America, ed. Prebish and Tanaka, 148. Elsewhere Numrich estimates that conservatively there were between “one-half and three-quarters of a million immigrant Theravတda Buddhists in the U.S. in 1990” (Old Wisdom in the New World, xix). In the appendix to his Old Wisdom in the New World, Numrich lists 142 immigrant Theravတda temples in the United States, only 21 of which are included in Morreale's “complete” guide. Morreale, however, includes 6 Theravတda centers that are not listed by Numrich (some of which were founded after Numrich compiled his appendix).

32. Cuong Tu Nguyen and A. W. Barber, “Vietnamese Buddhism in North America: Tradition and Acculturation,” in The Faces of Buddhism in America, ed. Prebish and Tanaka, 131.

33. Alfred Bloom, “Shin Buddhism in America: A Social Perspective,” in The Faces of Buddhism in America, ed. Prebish and Tanaka, 36. According to Kenneth Tanaka, in 1996 the total membership was 16,902, “a figure that represents a gradual attrition from the 1988 figure of 20, 021 and a 1977 count of 21,600” (see “Issues of Ethnicity in the Buddhist Churches of America,” in American Buddhism, ed. Williams and Queen, 3). It is important to note that Japanese American Jōdo Shinshu Buddhists in Hawaii are not members of the BCA but have a direct relationship with Hongwanji in Japan.

34. Jane Hurst, “Nichiren Shoshu and Soka Gakkai in America: The Pioneer Spirit,” in The Faces of Buddhism in America, ed. Prebish and Tanaka, 80. Hurst claims that SGI had between 50,000 and 150,000 members in 1993 (80); she claims that SGI had 300,000 members in 1997 (88). The larger figure may well reflect the total number of Americans who have received the go-honzon, but it is certainly far too high as a measure of currently active members, for which the figure of 35, 917, based on subscriptions to the organization's newspapers, is a more accurate index (see Hammond and Machacek, Soka Gakkai in America, 41).

35. Asai and Williams, “Japanese American Zen Temples,” 21. The two largest of these temples, Shōbōji in Honolulu and ZenshŪji in Los Angeles, have a membership of 800 and 300 families respectively. Unfortunately, Mu Soeng's chapter on Korean Buddhism in America in The Faces of Buddhism in America, 177-28 gives no figures. Richard Seager cites the abbot of Kwan Um Sa in Los Angeles, who estimated that in the late 1980s “there were sixty-seven Korean Buddhist temples nationwide with an active membership of 25,000. Most of these temples conducted services in Korean and were devoted to addressing the needs of the first-generation Korean immigrants” (Buddhism in America, 168). Eui-Young Yu lists nineteen Korean Buddhist temples and two Zen centers in the Los Angeles area in 1988 (“The Growth of Korean Buddhism in the United States, with Special Reference to Southern California,” Pacific World 4 [1988]: 88).

36. Taishō daizōkyō, vol. 12, 556a (cf. Taishō daizōkyō, vol. 12, 802a). This parable is picked up again in the ninth century in China by the Hua-yen and Ch'an scholar Tsung-mi (780-841), who uses it to account for and reconcile the plurality of positions on “sudden” and “gradual” held by proponents of contending Ch'an schools and to show that their conflict can be resolved when all the positions are seen to be parts of a larger whole (see Ch'an-yüan chu-ch'üan-chi tu-hsü, Taishō daizōkyō, vol. 48, 402b4; cf., Kamata Shigeo, Mengen shosenshŪ tojo, Zen no goroku, vol. 9 [Tokyo: Chikuma shobō, 1975], 81). The earliest Buddhist reference (for which I would like to thank Thanissaro Bhikkhu) is probably Udāna VI.6; see The Minor Anthologies of the Pali Canon Part II, trans. F. L. Woodward (London: Oxford University Press, 1948), 81-83.

37. In a letter to Daniel Beard in 1899, as quoted in Martin Verhoeven, “Americanizing the Buddha: Paul Carus and the Transformation of Asian Thought,” in The Faces of Buddhism in America, ed. Prebish and Tanaka, 207. Carus thus made a plea for an artistic representation that would Americanize the Buddha ideal, “modernizing the figure, depriving it of its Asiatic peculiarities, and endowing it with those features, which according to our best knowledge of Oriental lore he ought to possess” (207).

38. See Numrich, Old Wisdom in the New World, 64, and Seager, Buddhism in America, 10. Seager explains: “By convert I mean not so much a person who has embraced an entire religious system, but, in keeping with the original meaning of the term, someone who has turned their heart and mind toward a set of religious teachings, in this case the teachings of Buddhism.”

39. As one perceptive teacher of insight meditation wrote to me: “I suppose I fit into the category ‘first generation western Buddhist convert,’ yet I don't find myself identified in the term ‘Buddhist convert.’ Good grief, I teach the stuff, I'm organizing a Dharma Community, it's what I practice, and I can with sincerity take the [three] refuges. I love Buddha Dharma. I fit all the standards for being a Buddhist. So why do I not describe myself as a Buddhist convert? I am trying to figure out why, so I'll share my thoughts.

“There is something perhaps archaic about the notion of conversion in America. I remember what it meant to convert when I was growing up Roman Catholic, leaving one religion and embracing another. The term implies for me that one has to belong or identify somewhere. More and more, howev-er, people don't do that. Most of the people in my classes, and even most of those in the Dharma Community, do not think of themselves as ‘Buddhist,’ even though they may be dedicated to Buddhist practice and use Buddha Dharma to guide their lives. Some in the community still practice Judaism or Christianity. They have a dual allegiance, so to speak, or don't see a boundary where previous generations saw a boundary….

“Though I don't practice as a Roman Catholic, I don't really feel as though I've left it. It has contributed so much to who I am and what I understand. I don't feel a need to have a religious identity, to be Buddhist, and the word seems to create a sense of separateness unnecessarily I think it's completely faithful to Buddha Dharma to not ‘be a Buddhist.’ It's just more craving for existence (bhava). (Ajahn Chah put it this way: ‘Don't be a Buddhist. Don't be a Bodhisattva. Don't be anything at all. If you do, you will suffer.’)” Mark Hart, personal correspondence, December 7, 1999.

40. Unfortunately, “practitioner” is not a viable category for our purposes because it does not distinguish this group from Asian American and immigrant Buddhists who practice Buddhism.

41. Nattier, “Who Is a Buddhist?” 188.

42. Stuart Chandler notes that “while the Chinese have the longest history of any Asian Americans and were the first to build temples in the United States, the present Chinese Buddhist organizations are quite young; the vast majority have been established only within the past twenty-five years” (“Chinese Buddhism in America,” 30).

43. Takaki, Ronald, Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans (Boston: Little, Brown, 1989; updated and rev. ed., Boston: Back Bay Books, 1998); see also Daniels, Roger, Asian America: Chinese and Japanese in the United States since 1850 (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1988).

44. To what extent, for example, does the Asian American Buddhist experience conform to the three-generation model laid out by Will Herberg in his classic study in the sociology of American religion, Protestant, Catholic, Jew: An Essay in American Religious Sociology (1955; rev. ed., 1959; repr., Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983)? Such comparisons should also be instructive for highlighting what is unique about the experience of Asian Americans and clarifying what differentiates their experience from that of immigrant groups from Europe. Here both racial and ethnic factors loom large. As a scholar of religion, I would also emphasize the wide theological gulf between Buddhism and Christianity. All of these factors have made assimilation more difficult for Asian American Buddhists than for Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish European immigrants, who were white, Western, and shared the same Judeo-Christian heritage.

45. How, for example, have such phenomena as the breakdown of the Protestant mainstream, the shift away from an assimilationist model toward a more pluralistic and multicultural one, increasing globalization, multiple identities, etc. affected the context in which new Buddhism is developing?

46. See, for example, Batchelor, Stephen, Buddhism without Beliefs: A Contemporary Guide to Awakening (New York: Riverhead Books, 1997). See also the debate on reincarnation between Batchelor, Stephen and Thurman, Robert in Tricycle: The Buddhist Review 6, no. 4 (Summer 1997): 2427, 109-16. To cite another example, Richard P. Hayes argued in his 1989 essay, “Bodhisattvas in Blue Jeans,” that karma and rebirth are “obstructive doctrines” that “serve more to impede Westerners than to help them acquire wisdom and become less self-centered” (in Land ofNo Buddha: Reflections of a Skeptical Buddhist [Birmingham: Windhorse Publications, 1998], 60-61). In his “The Internet as Window onto American Buddhism,” Hayes notes that “one of the most frequently debated issues in Western Buddhism has been the matter of whether it is necessary to believe in rebirth and what it means within the context of Buddhism” (in American Buddhism, ed. Williams and Queen, 172).

47. Asai and Williams, “Japanese American Zen Temples,” is one of the few studies to call attention to the importance of the economic base on which Buddhist institutions in America are built.

48. See, for example, Coleman, “The New Buddhism,” 91-99; see also Coleman's book, The New Buddhism, 192-94.

49. Again, relying on the estimate of Hammond and Machacek—see n. 28. This means that SGI membership is more than twice that of BCA (about 17,000).

50. Hurst, “Nichiren ShōshŪ and Sōka Gakkai in America,” 89. Hammond and Machacek give the following racial profile: white 5 42 percent, black 5 15 percent, Asian, Pacific Islander 5 23 percent, Latino, hispanic 5 6 percent, and other 5 15 percent (Soka Gakkai in America, table 2, 44).

51. Although this too is changing. The early policy of aggressive recruitment (shakubuku) was abandoned in 1978, thus beginning what is known as Phase II of the movement (see Hurst, “Nichiren ShoōshŪ and Soka Gakkai in America,” 89).

52. Nattier, “Who Is a Buddhist?” 189.

53. Tworkov, Helen, “Many Is More,” Tricycle: The Buddhist Review 1, no. 2 (1991): 4 .

54. Ryo Iwamura's letter was sent to Tricycle, which declined to publish it. It was subsequently circulated in The Sangha Newsletter, the Newsletter of the Wider Shin Buddhist Fellowship (Summer 1994). The term “the two Buddhisms” was coined by Charles Prebish, although he seems to have originally used it in a very different sense (see his American Buddhism, 51).

55. Tanaka, “Issues of Ethnicity in the Buddhist Churches of America,” 4.

56. See, for example, Nattier, “Who Is a Buddhist?” 190-191, Tanaka, “Issues of Ethnicity in the Buddhist Churches of America,” 3-4, and Prebish, Luminous Passage, 57-63, 128-29, and 296n17.

57. Nattier, “Who Is a Buddhist?” 191.

58. The idea that there is a cluster of characteristics or a singular norm that can be identified as “American” has given way to a more fluid and complex understanding of what it means to be American in our increasingly pluralistic and multicultural society. It would thus be a mistake to presume that there is a necessary set of traits that Buddhism will assume as it becomes “ Americanized.” Americanization does not necessarily mean a movement toward uniformity. Indeed, in the history of religion in America, the creation and continuation of ethnic churches is itself a distinctively “American” phenomenon.

59. Rick Fields, “Divided Dharma: White Buddhists, Ethnic Buddhists, and Racism,” in The Faces of Buddhism in America, ed. Prebish and Tanaka, 202 (note that I have rearranged the order). Fields goes on to comment: “All these trends, except for the second [i.e., its emphasis of meditation], are characteristically American components that seem to run counter to Asian norms.” As already noted, the various Asian American and immigrant Buddhists groups do not, as a whole, place the same emphasis on meditation that American Buddhist convert practitioners do.

60. See the enumeration by Surya Das, “Emergent Trends in Western Dharma,” in Buddhism in America, ed. Rapaport, 550-52. See also Jack Kornfield, “American Buddhism,’ in The Complete Guide to Buddhist America, ed. Morreale, xxii-xxiv.

61. Bond, George D., The Buddhist Revival in Sri Lanka: Religious Tradition, Reinterpretation and Response (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1988), 35 . Another phenomenon associated with modern Theravāda reform movements in Southeast Asia is the growing popularity of Vipassanā meditation among the laity.

62. As a corollary to this point, I would predict that English will emerge as a major canonical language. For many Buddhists around the world, English is or will be the second language of choice. For many Asian Buddhists as well, their own texts will be more accessible to them in English translation than, for example in the Pali or Chinese original.

63. The theme of “sinification,” as the Chinese transformation of Buddhism is often referred to, has been the master narrative that has dominated the field for the past half century or longer. See, for example, Ch'en, Kenneth K. S., The Chinese Transformation of Buddhism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973), whose title was chosen in response to that of Erik Zürcher's classic, The Buddhist Transformation of China: The Spread and Adaptation of Buddhism in Early Medieval China (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1959). For a more recent assessment, see my Tsung-mi and the Sinification of Buddhism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991).

64. Chandler, “Chinese Buddhism in America,” 23-24.

65. See Sharf, Robert H.'s insightful article, “The Zen of Japanese Nationalism,” History of Religions 33, no. 1 (1993): 143 , a revised version of which was included in Curators ofthe Buddha: The Study of Buddhism under Colonialism, ed. Donald S. Lopez, Jr. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), 107-60. See also Sharf, Robert H., “Buddhist Modernism and the Rhetoric of Meditative Experience,” Numen 42 (1995): 228-83; Bond, The Buddhist Revival in Sri Lanka; Gombrich, Richard F., Theravada Buddhism: A Social History from Ancient Benares to Modern Colombo (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1988), chap. 7, “Protestant Buddhism,” 172-97; Richard Gombrich and Gananath Obeyesekere, Buddhism Transformed: Religious Change in Sri Lanka (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988), chap. 6, “Protestant Buddhism, 202-40; and Swearer, Donald K., The Buddhist World of Southeast Asia (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995), chap. 3, “Modernization,” 107-61.

66. “The term ‘Protestant Buddhism’ in my usage has two meanings. (a) … many of its norms and organizational forms are historical derivatives from Protestant Christianity. (b) … it is a protest against Christianity and its associated Western political dominance prior to independence” ( Obeyesekere, Gananath, “Religious Symbolism and Political Change in Ceylon,” in The Two Wheels of Dharma: Essays on Theravada Tradition in India and Ceylon, ed. Obeyesekere, Gananath, Reynolds, Frank, and Smith, Bardwell L. [Cham-bersburg, Pa.: American Academy of Religion, 1972], 62 ). The appeal to the canonical tradition as a source of authority for the reinvention of the tradition is another feature that modern Buddhism shares with Protestantism.

67. “Buddhist modernism is characterized by the emphasis laid on rationalist elements in Buddhist teachings, by the belief that the teachings of Buddhism and those of modern science are not only in conformity but identi-cal, by the tacit elimination of the traditional cosmology, and by a reinterpre-tation of the objective of the Buddhist religion in terms of social reform and the building of a better world” (Heinz Bechert, “Sangha, State, Society, ‘Nation’: Persistence of Traditions in ‘Post-Traditional’ Buddhist Societies,” Daedalus 102, no. 1 [1973]: 91).

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Religion and American Culture
  • ISSN: 1052-1151
  • EISSN: 1533-8568
  • URL: /core/journals/religion-and-american-culture
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed