Buddhism in America
The study of Buddhism is still, by all accounts, in its infancy in the United States of America. This stems largely from the fact that Buddhism is relatively new to the United States, having begun to receive attention there little over a century ago. However, its impressive growth and high profile have conferred it with a membership which, according to some sources, is larger than many Protestant denominations. The purpose of this dissertation is to provide an overview of the development of Buddhism in America: of its past developments, its present situation and its future prospects. As such, emphasis will be placed on understanding the keys to the evolution of Buddhism in America, namely the themes and concepts that have consistently been present in its progress. This will lead us to pay particular attention to the early developments of Buddhism in America: although remarkably little research has been done on this topic, many important keys to the development of American Buddhism can be found in its early history. These include the divide between the so-called "ethnic" and "white" branches of American Buddhism, Buddhism's notoriety in relation to its membership, and the impact its diversity has had on its development. Attention shall then be paid to its recent evolution, beginning with Beat Zen and its origins, through psychedelism, the 1970s and 1980s to our day, whilst focusing on the patterns defining its growth, such as its emphasis on laity and community centres. Finally, the four main keys allowing the understanding both its recent and future developments shall be examined, after which we shall critically consider the different evolutionary paths American Buddhism could take in the future. This dissertation covers the transformation of Buddhism in America into American Buddhism, namely that from imported religion to integrated entity; to begin with, let us examine the path Buddhism took to enter America.
There have been surprisingly few exchanges between the Far East and the West until the 19th century. There had been expeditions to the West undertaken by Buddhists, such as those ordered by Emperor Ashoka around 284BC; despite this, there is no mention of Buddhism in Roman texts and only one in Hellenic. However, despite their being no direct account of Buddhism in the West, there have been many theories as to indirect influences. An example of such an incidence is the story of Barlaam and Josaphat, as recounted in the 8th century by St John of Damascus. According to this, the oracles predict at Josaphat's birth that he will one day leave home and embrace the true religion. His father tries to prevent him from doing so by surrounding him with luxury, in order to distract him from the truth. However, Barlaam reveals the true nature of the world to him, and Josaphat decides to take up asceticism: he follows Barlaam to the desert where they live the lives of Christian hermits. The story bears an uncanny resemblance to the one of the Buddha Vipassi as recounted in Sutta 14 of the "Long Discourses of the Buddha", or indeed to that of the Buddha's own life. Etymological evidence suggests this to be a Buddhist tale that migrated first to Pahlevi, then Greek and Latin, and finally to French, German and Swedish: Josaphat was derived from the Hellenic name Ioasaph, which came from the Arab word Bodasaph, which in turn was taken from the Sanskrit "Boddhisvatta". The same process shows "Barlaam" to be the European rendering of "Buddha".
Thus, it was actually Buddha who gained sainthood when Cardinal Boronius made Barlaam and Josaphat saints in the Martyrologium of 1585. This is also one of the many theories to support the idea of cross-fertilisation between Buddhism and Christianity; others have pointed to similarities between the two religions such as the custom of relic worship, the use of rosaries, or the similarities in the life lead by the desert fathers of Egypt and the forest-dwelling Indian Buddhist monks.
Thus, it has been argued that the first variation of Buddhism to reach the West, and indeed the USA, was Christianity. Although this might be excessively bold, it is indisputable these and other similarities between the two faiths paved the way for Buddhism in America, making it more readily accepted whilst other Eastern religions, such as Islam, are still shunned today. And indeed, almost from its beginnings in the West, Buddhism proved popular, as can be seen for instance by the success of Sir Edwin Arnold's poetic apotheosis of Buddhism "Light of Asia"(1887). But that is perhaps jumping too far forward; for understanding the history of Buddhism in western America begins with its emergence.
Interest for the East in Europe arose with expansion of the Commonwealth to Asia. As English expatriates, often members of the Civil Service, made efforts towards understanding the language and indeed the culture of the country they were occupying, seminal works of eastern culture were studied, translated and published in the English language. One such man was William Jones (1736-1794), an English scholar and linguist who was sent to India by George V in 1783. Once in situ, he taught himself Hindu and Sanskrit, and both translated and published many volumes on Hinduism and India, most notably the Asiatick Researches. He was the founder of the Asiatick Society, which was one of the first organisations to make Eastern works available in England. Though none of those works were Buddhist, their availability made the study of religions contemporary to Buddhism possible, and thus were at the base of all consecutive studies. Moreover, his friendship with Benjamin Franklin had the result of making many of his works available in America, where as we shall see it was read with great interest by influential figures in American literature.
It was in great part thanks to the path William Jones paved that Eugene Burnouf's "Essai sur le Pali", the first Pali grammar, was published in 1826. This work has led him to be known as "founding father of Buddhist Studies", principally because the first and many translations of original Buddhist texts were made with the aid of this grammar. Thomas W. Rhys-Davids, an English envoy to Sri Lanka, made use of this grammar for several translations of Ceylonese Buddhist texts. He later founded the Pali Text Society, in 1881, which searched the libraries of Europe and Ceylon for Pali palm-leaf manuscripts and then translated them. His translation of the Pali Canon remains a point of reference today, and his essay entitled "Buddhism" was widely read at its publication in 1878.
Thanks amongst others to the strong links it had with Britain, many of these writings crossed over to the United States; and they found a receptive and influential readership. The first publication of one of Jones' texts in America was in the Monthly Anthology and Boston Review, edited by a Catholic minister named William Emerson. His son, Ralph Waldo Emerson, had read Jones' Asiatick Researches by 1820. He was strongly influenced by those readings, and in 1840 started a publication which would make them available to a wider audience. Dial, as his publication was called, was to be a "Journal in a new spirit"; amongst others, it featured a section called the "Ethnical Scriptures" which published original Oriental texts.
Amongst the group of intellectuals that came to form around Emerson and Dial at Emerson's home in Concord, MA, and who became known as the Transcendentalists, was a young Henry Thoreau. Thoreau was immediately taken by the Oriental writings he found in Emerson's library. He was soon put in charge of the "Ethnical Scriptures" review, and his first issuance as such was a portion of the introduction to the Lotus-Sutta, which he had translated from Burnouf's recently published French version. Thoreau's work, which was heavily influenced by his Eastern readings, marked the beginning of the spread of Buddhism beyond the realm of scholars and towards the general public, a move that was going to be generalised in the following years.
This was to take place through the work of two writers: the first was a then-unknown Walt Whitman, whom Emerson, upon receiving a pre-edition of his book "Leaves of Grass" in 1855, compared to an "American Buddh". His work was an immediate success, and he increased the attention the American public gave the Orient. This prepared the public for a book called "The Light of Asia, or the Great Renunciation, Being the Life and Teachings of Gautama, Prince of India and Founder of Buddhism" by English poet and journalist Edwin Arnold. Bronson Alcott, who ran the Transcendentalist summer writing camp, was so impressed by the book that he immediately moved to have it printed from his own copy. It immediately received rave reviews from prominent critics and was tremendously popular, running through 80 editions and around a million copies at the time. "The Light of Asia" was the first text which made Buddhism virtually a household name throughout America; however, its popularity were due less to its content than to its form. Whilst the interest many prominent scholars had in the Orient stimulated public curiosity about all things eastern, Arnold's book was popular because it was a tale, and was written as such. Although important Buddhist doctrines were included, such as that of karma or of the Four Noble Truths, Arnold had basically told Buddha's story in a way that matched Victorian taste.
This is an important point because at the time "The Light of Asia" was published, Buddhism was not yet completely understood even by the scholars who studied it. The differentiation between Buddhism and other Asian religions had only shortly before been established by Rhys-David's "Buddhism"(1878). Moreover, there was still confusion over the translation of the word "Nirvana", which up to then had been rendered as "annihilation". This translation explains much of the opposition Buddhism had encountered until then, both from Christian missionaries in Asian territories and from some Western academics. Scholars such as Max Muller were beginning to contest this interpretation, and Arnold adopted the word "nothingness" as a more suitable translation. The point is that because of the scarcity of concrete information regarding Buddhism, there was little that Arnold's readership could delve into in terms of widely accepted interpretations and explanations of the exact nature of Buddhism. This made Buddhism mysterious and exotic, which may have been part of the appeal for many of Arnold's readers, but which also meant that Buddhism became fashionable there being much knowledge of its nature. Thus the notoriety of Buddhism was more widespread than understanding or knowledge of its doctrines; this is a point we shall return to later, as we shall see that this to be a recurring phenomenon in the history of Buddhism in the USA. It is interesting though to note that this was the case almost from the onset of American Buddhism.
However, to assume that Buddhism arrived to the United States purely under the guise of a new discipline studied by academics, or as a passing Victorian fad, would be misunderstanding its development. The 1840s in China saw the advent of the Opium Wars between the Chinese and the English. The war had an inflationary effect, and decreased the popularity of the already unpopular Manchu emperor. Taxes were heavy, and banditry was rife; all of this made "Gold Mountain" an attractive alternative at the time. Thus, when gold was discovered in San Francisco in 1848, there were only 12 Chinese immigrants in California, according to historian Rick Fields. By the end of 1849, there were 300; by 1852, 20 000; and by the end of 1860, 1/10th of the Californian population was of Chinese origin. By 1870, there was a total of 63 000 Chinese immigrants in the USA, mostly in California.
Despite some notable contributions to the community, such as the first mobile wooden house, the Chinese immigrants were subject to strong racism, which culminated in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. The hostility with which they were met lead the Chinese immigrants to form groups, known as Companies, who acted as a link with the home country as well as creating something of an immigrant Chinese community in which they could feel at home. Thus, they became the centres of religious and social life for their members. The first Chinese temple in California was built by the Sze-Yap Company in the summer of 1853 in San Francisco's Chinatown, and another was to follow in 1854 by the Ning Yeang Company. By the end of 1875, there were 8 temples in San Francisco; and by the end of the 19th Century, there were over 400 Chinese temples on the West Coast of the USA.
The role of these temples is seen as particularly important by some Chinese-American historians, who have suggested they provided a for the Chinese immigrant community, a place where "harmony, balance and justice" were re-established. The Chinese were not religiously exclusivist: it was thus not unnatural to practise several religions simultaneously. As such, the Chinese temples in the USA were not associated with any specific religions, but rather with a mixture consisting of Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism.
The Japanese, however, were less prompt to emigrate to the USA. In 1870, there were only 70 Japanese in the US, including one Buddhist priest; by 1890, there were still only 2 039. The reasons for this were simple: Japan had throughout the 19th Century pursued a policy of strict isolationism, restricting travel abroad and turning away foreigners. In 1868 and 1885 however, over a thousand Japanese travelled to Hawaii to work on the sugar plantations, as part of an agreement between the two countries. However, the working conditions on the plantations were poor, which caused concern to a young Jodo Shinshu priest, Kagahi, who was sent over on an exploratory mission. He found that Christianity was almost everywhere on the island: even the Japanese Consul and his wife had been converted. Winning over the trust of the population, he managed to gather enough funds to build the first Buddhist temple in Hawaii by the time of his departure in 1889.
By 1894, there were 25 000 Japanese in Hawaii. By 1896 the first Jodo Shinshu temple was built on the island. When a coup was staged in 1892 by a group of white plantation-owners supported by the US Marines, which was followed by the USA annexing the island six years later, the US gained an island with a large Buddhist population. Moreover, Hawaii was an important stepping stone for Japanese Buddhists on their way to the US, the first Japanese Buddhist missionaries arrived in San Francisco from the island in 1896. At that time, the 2 039 Japanese in the US were trying hard to integrate the US way of life by wearing Western clothes, studying at Methodist schools and adopting the local religion. Many of these efforts were later going to be nullified by the Second World War and particularly by Executive Order 9066; this order, signed by President F.D. Roosevelt, confined all 110 000 Japanese immigrants to internment camps in Colorado, Utah and Illinois. This had the effect of a psychological electroshock on the Japanese community, who turned back to its origins. Buddhist temples thereafter became pivotal in the Japanese-American community as a place of socialising and regrouping.
Thus, the immigrant Asian communities in America brought their Buddhism along with them. Because of the fact that these religious traditions marked the difference between Asian immigrants and the other populations of America, they quickly became to identify the community they were associated with. As such, they became central to the life of these communities; the temple became a place of social as well as religious activity. Because their religion marked their difference from the others and came to symbolise it, the immigrant communities had no will or interest to propagate their religion beyond their communities. Thus, though there was a great deal of interest in Buddhism at the time from the part of Westerners, there was very little communication between the Asian immigrant communities of America and those interested in their religion. This lead to the development of what is now termed "ethnic Buddhism" to be both parallel and differentiated from what has been called "white" or "western" Buddhism. Once again, it is interesting to note that what has become a defining trait of Buddhism in America was present from its beginnings.
At this point, it becomes impossible not to talk about Colonel Henry Steel Olcott and Madame Helena Petrova Blavatsky. Although not influential so much in the United Sates as outside it, their indirect influence is immeasurable in that they played a significant role reviving Buddhism throughout Asia. These two curious characters met in 1874 at a spiritualist gathering in Wyoming. United by a common curiosity for alternative systems of belief, they founded the Theosophical Society together in New-York, which eventually came to comprise such illustrious members as Thomas Edison. The society's aim was to "collect and diffuse knowledge of the laws which govern the Universe", in which Buddhism played a key part. Thus in 1879, Olcott and Blavatsky headed to India, where they were met with much enthusiasm. It has to be remembered that at the time Asian countries had suffered several generations of colonial rule, and that their religious traditions had suffered. Thus, Westerners manifesting an interest in their were potentially powerful political allies. The same logic extended to Ceylon, which they visited the next year, despite the doubts Ceylonese Buddhists had of their understanding of Buddhism. Thus, when they visited Ceylon the next year, they were met with a celebratory procession, and upon their arrival took Pansil in both Pali and English. The alliance proved effective: by 1884, Olcott had managed to convince the Colonial Secretary to restore Wesak as a national holiday and to legitimise marriages in Buddhist Churches, which had been a major obstruction to Buddhist popularity. In 1885, Olcott and Blavatsky toured Burma, and in 1888 Olcott undertook a lecture tour of Japan, in which he spoke to over 185 000 people.
The reasons for their importance are twofold. First of all, as we have mentioned, they were extremely influential in re-establishing Buddhism in Asia. The fact that Westerners were to show an interest in Buddhism did much to re-establish its credibility, especially at a time when Catholicism, especially in Japan, was increasingly associated with Western modernism. As well as successfully intervening with the local colonial secretaries for an increase in religious tolerance, Olcott realised that the local populations themselves had lost knowledge of Buddhism, which lead him to help create a new string of Buddhist schools in Asia. This prompted him to write his Buddhist Catechism in 1882, in which he advocated the use of Christian missionary techniques to counter the Christian missionaries. He also encouraged the works of Westerners such as Max Muller or Edwin Arnold, which were met with great popularity. Thus, in a sense Olcott and Blavatsky reintroduced Asia to Buddhism, without which its spread in the US would have been impossible.
Secondly, Olcott in particular recognised that the diversity of the Buddhist sects would be harmful to its spread in the West. As he came to Ceylon, he stated that one of his main aims was to "bring harmony out of this chaos, to make a friendly and tolerant spirit out of these hatreds and mutual ignorances". There were indeed deep divisions between various Buddhist sects, as there are today, and Olcott saw the elimination of these divisions as a prerequisite to the further spread of Buddhism. He made several steps in that direction: he developed a Buddhist flag in 1886, which despite being adopted by most Buddhist sects for Wesak that year did not have an enduring success. He attempted to organise a "Buddhist League" to represent the various sects; at his initiative, delegates from Ceylon, Burma and Japan met in 1890 to discuss this possibility. He then created the 14 Buddhist Beliefs, common to all of Buddhism, after protracted discussions with the heads of most sects. However, due to the lack of authority they commanded, his efforts proved unsuccessful and were soon disregarded.
Several other scholars were at that point engaged in adapting Buddhism to Western culture by uniting it under a common doctrine, such Dr Paul Carus with his "The Gospel of Buddha"(1895), or the first American Buddhist periodical "Buddhist Ray"(1887-1894). Unlike Catholicism, which in the Vatican and the Pope had central leadership and a figure that believers could look to for direction, there was no such unifying strand in Buddhism. The evolution of Buddhist sects had been progressive and thus natural in their countries of origin, however the simultaneous arrival to America of such a large amount of contradictory information concerning Buddhism made it something even some academics had trouble understanding. Buddhism at that time was a counter-culture in the Western world; unlike in certain Asian countries, where it had been established for centuries, there was no existing Buddhist tradition. A Westerner seeking to turn to Buddhism would thus be confronted with information concerning all different sects without any prevalence, thus limiting the appeal of Buddhism to the general public. This situation still has echoes today; once again it is interesting to note how early on it became a problem.
Much of the interest Buddhism received at that time was due to two principle factors: its similarity with several aspects of Christianity, which we have already detailed above, and its compatibility with science. It has to be remembered that the second half of the 19th century witnessed many great scientific breakthroughs, such as electricity or the discovery of radioactivity. Many of these scientific facts contradicted Church edicts, and as a result many, especially amongst the educated middle-classes, were in search of an alternative in which to place their faith. Buddhism had the double advantage of resembling Christianity in some of its beliefs and practices, and of being compatible with science.
This brings us to the World Parliament of Religions of 1893. Following HP Blavatsky's death, Colonel Olcott returned to the USA to attend the World Parliament of Religions. This took place in Chicago as part of the World Fair of the same year, and was organised by liberal Protestant minister Dr J.H. Barrows. It was to bring together representatives from all religions of the world to demonstrate what Dr Barrows termed the "unity of beliefs", that the idea of the divine providence existed through all ages and lands. Like many other liberal Christian ministers at the time, it is likely that Barrows was seeking a cross-cultural justification of Christianity. In any case, although most representatives were Christian, Buddhism was strongly represented by delegates from Japan, India, China, Siam and Ceylon. The delegates were to give speeches as to the nature of their religion, followed by a discussion involving the other delegates and the attendants. Because of the diverse nature of the Buddhist representatives involved, the speeches concerning Buddhism were often contradictory; and no clear picture of Buddhism thus emerged to the attendants. Nevertheless, the Parliament was extremely successful, and the Buddhist faction exceptionally so; two members of the Buddhist delegation to have made a particularly strongest impression were Anagarika Dharmapala, the representative of the Ceylonese Theravada Buddhists, and Soken Shaku, who with his disciple and translator Daisetz T. Suzuki represented the Japanese Rinsai Zen branch.
Many historians have considered the World Parliament of Religions as the beginning of Buddhism in America. The reason for this is the case of Charles T. Strauss: indeed, a few days after the end of the Parliament, Anagarika Dharmapala was lecturing in a nearby hall in Chicago when a middle-aged New-Yorker, who claimed himself a student of religions, asked Dharmapala to be admitted into Buddhism. Dharmapala accepted, and a brief ceremony followed in which Strauss took refuge in the 3 Jewels. Strauss thus became the first American to convert to Buddhism on American soil. Although we have seen that the roots of Buddhism in America spread as far back as the Concordians, or even to the Bible depending on how far one wants to take the argument, the importance of Strauss' conversion cannot be ignored, especially as it helps us identify a key characteristic of Buddhism in America, namely the divide between so-called "ethnic" and "white" Buddhism.
The early history of Buddhism has showed us that Buddhism developed on two different planes. On one hand, it was the object of study and, eventually, enthusiasm for Westerners for whom Western religions did not provide all the answers. Charles T. Strauss' is both a symbol and a forerunner of this trend. On the other hand, we have seen that for many Asian immigrants, Buddhism was both a symbol of their culture and central to their lives in their new country, both as a religion and as a social community of which they only were part; yet more often than not there was little communication between these two strands. The reasons for this are several, but basically derive from their difference in purpose: indeed, as we have already explained, to Asian immigrants Buddhism was a community icon, catering to the needs and interests of this community, unique to them and to be preserved that way. There was thus little interest on the part of many Asian immigrants to spread Buddhism beyond their community, and as such no missionary activity was undertaken. This meant that "ethnic" Buddhism in America was as much a place of socialising as of religious practice; ethnic Buddhism was ceremony, community and East-oriented. On the other hand, "white" or "western" Buddhists had little interest in the social aspect of ethnic Buddhism: they found the religious ceremonies to remind them of those in Catholicism, which is precisely why they had abandoned it. Moreover, the fact that they had taken the conscious decision to take up Buddhism meant they were not happy in a passive role; they wanted to practice Buddhist precepts as opposed to observing them. These differences in purposes played a major part in differentiating the roles of the ethnic and white Buddhist laity, the full scope of which we shall examine later. Because they have been the principal actors of the transformation of Buddhism in America, there is indeed a general tendency in "white" Buddhists to consider themselvesas solely representative of American Buddhism. Moreover, because ethnic Buddhists had little interest in changing the way Buddhism was practised, it has been argued that they played little part in the development of a specifically American Buddhism. As Kenneth K Tanaka puts it though, this is conveniently forgetting the incorporation of many Asian traditions into the American Buddhist landscape. Moreover, because a large majority of Buddhists in America are of Asian origin, the impact of Asian Buddhists can simply not be ignored. There are also signs of the division between the two camps abating, as many ethnic Buddhist associations, such as the Buddhist Churches of America, have started making use of Euro-American Buddhist monks to instruct their predominantly ethnical membership.
If only for the importance it has been given by contemporary American Buddhist historians, it is necessary at this point to mention the debate concerning the appellation one might give to these different types of American Buddhists. The standard way of distinguishing the main strands of Buddhism in America were the "ethnic" strand and the "Western" strand. However, Rick Fields has argues that this fails to make the distinction between American and European Buddhism, in between which there are according to him significant differences. He thus coined the term "white Buddhism", although he acknowledges this to be highly contentious if only because a small proportion of non-ethnic Buddhists are not white. This has lead Jan Nattier to evolve the theory that there are three types of Buddhism in America: Elite Buddhism, in which the subject seeks out the religion for himself, and called so because the majority of its subjects are of middle-class European origin; Evangelical Buddhism, in which the subject has been converted to Buddhism by an active missionary; and Ethnic Buddhism. The problem with these definitions is that, as Rick Fields would point out, the subjects of these definitions would not recognise themselves in them. We shall adopt Fields' appellation for the sake of clarity, and, because it does not directly concern the question we are examining, we shall leave this debate as it is.
Secondly, we have seen that Buddhism had a notoriety which was out of proportion to the number of its members. This was the case with Edwin Arnold's Light of Asia, which propagated the name of Buddha without there being a single American-born Buddhist in the States. Though this case is more of an illustration than a demonstration, the argument became particularly true in the 20th Century. Because of the interest it has caused in scholars, Buddhism became known in particular to the educated middle-class. This class in turn yielded many intellectuals with an interest in Buddhism, such writers Gary Snyder, Jack Kerouac or Allen Ginsberg, who formed the root of Beat Zen, or Timothy Leary, one of the two Harvard professors who spearheaded the LSD revolution. Some of the exponents of Buddhism thus gained notoriety beyond their immediate circle of influence, thus propagating the name and some of the ideas behind Buddhism. At the same time, whilst it is true that some of the people who read "The Dharma Bums" or some of Snyder's poetry turned to Buddhists, most didn't. This explains why Buddhism is notorious out of proportion to the actual amount of its converts, which estimates place between 1% and 2% of the American population. This is still true today, with personalities such as Richard Gere, Oliver Stone, Roy Lichtenstein, Tina Turner, the Beastie Boys, Lou Reed and Leonard Cohen vaunting the merits of Buddhism.
Finally, we have seen that the multiplicity of different sects had already been identified as a possible hindrance to the spread of Buddhism. Colonel Olcott and others had try to unify the different Buddhist sects to make it more accessible, for it to be possible to find out about what is common to Buddhism without having to learn about the differences between the various sects. This means that the general public didn't have a clear idea of what Buddhism actually is. This is still to some extent the case today, and the understanding of this point has influenced the ideas of many Buddhist scholars as to the direction Buddhism should take in the future. However, the consideration of this issue requires knowledge of the more recent evolutions of American Buddhism; thus we shall consider its development in the twentieth century.
Following the World Parliament of Religion, public interest in Buddhism waned; however, the conversion of Charles T. Strauss was to most historians the signal that Buddhism had taken root in the USA, even if only precariously. The next few years were decisive in that this initial acceptance had to be built upon for Buddhism to "take" in America beyond immigrant communities. It has to be remembered that without teachers, Buddhism could not spread in the USA; and at that point, few were prepared to teach Buddhism to Westerners. Most immigrant monks were not interested in teaching foreigners; as a comment by Marquis Kuroda puts it, "Americans cannot judge our culture for it is above them". However, the World Parliament of Religions had put Western scholars in contract with Eastern masters, and some believed America was ready for Buddhism. The history of Buddhism in America from 1898 to 1945 is that of those teachers; for it is them who brought took Buddhism from the realm of scholastic study to practice in the USA.
Soyen Shaku, the representative of Rinzai Zen at the Worlds Parliament of Religions, was one of those teachers. Though he spent less than a year teaching in the United States, his indirect influence was felt through two of the disciples he brought with him. Thus, his translator at the World Parliament of Religions was Daisetz T. Suzuki; and during his second lecture of 1906 he also took Nyogen Senxaki with him. These two men were greatly influential on the spread of Buddhism in the USA. Similarly, when Sohatzu-Shaku arrived in San Francisco at the invitation of a group of Japanese immigrants, he brought a young Sokei-an with him; though this was only a temporary visit, he was to return to the USA later and form the first centre for teaching Buddhism on the East Coast.
Indeed, he established the Buddhist Society of America in New-York in 1931. By 1938, it had 30 regular members and many more casual attendees. Among the regular members was Englishman Alan Watts, who had married the daughter of the Society's main patron. Similarily, Senzaki established his first "floating" zendo in San Francisco in 1922. He continued teaching there until 1931, when he moved to Los Angeles and the zendo became fixed. He continued teaching both Japanese and Western students alternately. One common point between these two teachers is that both of them had no connection with the official Zen establishment in the USA at the time: to them, those priests were businessmen and did not lead the life of monks. This is linked to the ethnical-"white" Buddhist divide we have mentioned earlier: ethnic Zen in America was as much about community as about religion, to the detriment of strict Zen practice. Both Senzaki and Sokei-an found Westerners to be more enthusiastic and readier to submit to Zen's rigours; and this is what attracted most of the Eastern teachers who would teach Occidentals in the near future.
Perhaps the most important of these figures was DT Suzuki. Although Suzuki was not a monk, and was thus not authorised to perform any official ceremonies, he was extremely knowledgeable about Buddhism in general and Zen in particular. After the World Parliament of Religions, Soyen-Shaku sent him to Illinois to help Dr Paul Carus as a translator; and it was there that he published "The Outlines of Mahayana Buddhism", his first of many books and an important work clarifying the multiplicity of doctrines, deities and practices of Mahayana. The rest of his life was spent in between Japan and America, which he toured and lectured extensively. During the 1950s, through no effort of his part, he became a figure in America, interviewed for television channels, profiled in the New Yorker and featured in Vogue. Two series of lectures he gave, one at Columbia, NY in 1950 and the second at Berkeley, SF a few years earlier, were particularly influential. These were attended by a number of artists and intellectuals, including composer John Cage, journalist and future Buddhist teacher Philip Kapleau, and writers Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Gary Snyder and Alan Watts.
Because of his influence on its principal actors, Suzuki has been said to be a grandfather to Beat Zen. The first book Gary Snyder read on Zen was Suzuki's "Essays on Zen Buddhism", Kerouac read his translation of the Diamond Sutra, and his work were a frequent topic of discussion between Kerouac, Snyder and Ginsberg during their weekly meetings in the early 1950s. Thus the influence of Buddhism on the Beat movement was extremely strong; and though this was in majority Zen Buddhism, this was not only the case. Indeed, both Ginsberg and Snyder travelled to India, where they studied Theravada; and Kerouac carried a copy of Dwight Goddard's generalist "Buddhist Bible"(1934) everywhere with him. However, Zen prevailed, and with help from the Beats it attained the status of fad. As Mrs Ruth Fuller Sazaki, founder of the First Zen Institute, pointed out in 1959, Zen had become the fashionable by-word in cocktail parties and an excuse to avant-garde tendencies in art, literature and music.
This is an excellent example of Buddhism both as a counter-movement and as a phenomenon whose reach has extended beyond its members. As all fads though, it eventually fell out of fashion, though the sum of its impact was yet to be fully felt. The expansion of Zen Buddhism slowed down a little during the early sixties and was followed by an influx of Tibetan Buddhism. Indeed, following China's annexation of Tibet in 1950 and even more so following the Dalai Lama's exile in 1959, there was a steady influx of Tibetan monks in the United States. The most influential of these was Geshe Wangyal, who established Tibetan Buddhist centres and taught a significant amount of Westerners. Robert Thurman, along with two other Harvard Students, was one of Geshe Wagyal's first Western pupil, and upon his recommendation was eventually ordained the first American Tibetan Buddhist by the Dalai Lama. Gary Snyder and Allen Ginsberg also visited the Dalai Lama during their trip to India in 1962, where they learnt much about Tibetan Buddhism. Thus Tibetan Buddhism became increasingly known in the USA, and this was verified towards the end of the 1960s with the so-called "psychedelic revolution".
Snyder and Ginsberg returned from India just in time for the first "Be In" gathering in San Francisco. They both read out poems, and other attendants included Shunryu Suzuki-roshi, founder of the San Francisco Zen Centre, and Timothy Leary, Harvard professor and one of the first LSD experimenters. The psychedelic interest in Buddhism very much found its origin the Beats; the works of the Beats had been very popular and had served for many as an introduction to Buddhism. Moreover, many found that Buddhist texts contained the closest descriptions of the experiences they had had with LSD. Buddhist centres became "good places for tripping", and the nascent popularity of Tibetan Buddhism was witnessed by the psychedelics' use of its artwork. Indeed the bright multicoloured Tibetan Buddhist thangkas quickly found a place within the psychedelic framework.
To some psychedelics at the time, Buddhism was another way of getting high. However, many psychedelics wanted to find out more about Buddhism and deepen their experience, and as a result the Buddhist centres, especially those around San Francisco, rapidly filled up. Moreover, many claimed LSD heightened their understanding of Buddhist texts, and facilitated their entry to Buddhism directly to meditation level. At the same time though, the Buddhist masters in the USA were at pains to stress that getting high and Buddhism were two distinctly different experiences. The use of LSD was eventually banned from Buddhist centres and its use discouraged by monks. Suzuki-roshi for one found that students on drugs tended to give them up as "highly structured and supervised activities [such as the practice of Zen] left little time and lessened inclination."
One of the results of the "psychedelic revolution" was the so-called "Zen Boom" of the early and mid-1970s. In a similar way that Beat Zen had been an introduction to Buddhism for the first psychedelics, psychedelism had served the same purpose for the next generation. Whilst the amount of people turning to Zen as a result of psychedelism was extremely high, so was the drop-out rate, which was of about 75%. Philip Kapleau, who held a meditation centre first in San Francisco and then in Maui during that period, explains this by the reduction of concentration spans as a result of LSD or marijuana usage, as well as a tendency towards erranding amongst many hippies. Nevertheless, there was an exceptionally strong growth in Zen Buddhist centres during that period, which was almost equalled in parts by that of Tibetan Buddhism.
The main architect of Tibetan Buddhism in America was Chogyan Trungpa, Rinpoche (1940-1987), who arrived to the East Coast in 1970. After several lecture tours across the USA, he set up a Tibetan Buddhist centre in Colorado, followed by others across the country. In 1973 he set up the Vajradhatu, a national organisation co-ordinating his centres across the country. Finally, he founded the Naropa Institute, which later received College accreditation, in 1974 with some of his students; this organised speeches, discussions, teachings and summer schools, the first of which was attended by an estimated 5000 people. The Dalai Lama, who by then was already becoming something of a public character, was also a frequent visitor of his Tibetan Buddhist centres. The Dalai-Lama's popularity exploded with his Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, although by then Tibetan Buddhism was already well established in America. The teachings Trungpa Rinpoche defused were not exclusively tantric though: teachers at Naropa included Joseph Goldstein and Jack Kornfield, both trained Theravadin monks, who taught Vipassana meditation there; moreover Trungpa Rinpoche borrowed the Zen concept of zafi, encouraging the use of Zen-style cushions for meditation. As we shall see, this type of cross-cultural borrowing was to become characteristic of what we now know as American Buddhism, as opposed to Buddhism in America; although we shall see more of that later.
The seventies also saw the coming of other types of Eastern Buddhism to the USA. Korean Buddhism first made its apparition with Ku Sa Sonim in 1972. After a series a lecture tours he returned to Korea although he left some of his assistants behind in Los Angeles, which was at the time the second-largest Korean city in the world with 80 000 Korean nationals. He returned in 1980 and lived the rest of his life in LA. Vietnamese Buddhism was imported by Dr Thich Thian-an, who arrived in the US in 1966 and who founded the University of Oriental Studies in LA in 1973. Vietnamese Buddhism had by that time received some media coverage in the USA, as the image of a Vietnamese monk setting himself on fire in protest against the Diem communist government in Vietnam had had a great effect on the American public. The US State Office had even established an Office of Buddhist Affairs by that point, to find out more about the phenomenon that posed such a cultural threat through the hippies. Figures for Chinese Buddhism remained stable during that period, although Tripikata master Hsuan Hia set up a Chinese Buddhist centre in 1976, which was the first of its kind to teach all five kinds of Chinese Buddhism to Westerners. Finally, Theravada Buddhism kept growing, and 1976 saw the establishing of the Insight Meditation Centre by a group of Theravadins including Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein. Unlike most Buddhist centres at the time, it was not centred around a charismatic teacher but around a co-operative of teachers trained in Vipassana rotating on a regular basis.
Indeed, Buddhism had implanted itself in America principally through the establishment of centres, the majority of which were founded in the 1970s. They were in general the result of the initiative of an Eastern teacher, who used them as a framework in which to dispense his teachings. They were thus generally organised around that teacher, who occupied the dominant position in the organisation. When the teacher died, he named a successor to take his place, in a similar pattern to Eastern monasteries. The centres evolved around three poles of development: the major urban centre, which was generally the first piece of the organisation to be created, and which was where the administration, daily teachings, and communal practice were held, with possibilities of residence; the smaller, regional affiliate centres, were the local members of an organisation could meet and practice together. Don Morreale found in his study that in practice, most of these regional affiliates were granted complete autonomy, and that their link with the principal centre was "mainly spiritual". Finally, there were the retreat facilities, in which intensive group or individual meditation practice was undertaken, and which generally included full-time staff or residents. To complete the picture, it has to be added that many centres often include a source of financial revenue. Indeed, unlike in Asia, in which the monasteries are supported by the laity, no such implicit financial support is expected in America, and as such many centres have developed strategies to support themselves. The San Francisco Zen Centre is a good example of such a pattern of organisation: its main centre is situated in Page Street, it has some regional affiliates around San Francisco, and a retreat facility in the Tassajara mountains. At the same time, it also operates an organic bakery, a vegetarian restaurant and an organic garden to help support itself.
The organisation of these centres reveals a very important trend in American Buddhism, namely that it is principally a lay-oriented movement. Buddhist movements tend to be based on monasticism; to quote Daniel B Stevenson, little more is expected from the laity than devotion and financial support. The Sangha is all-important in the actual practice of Buddhism, and monks alone can attain spiritual advancement through the practice of the Buddhist principles and practices. This illustrates the difference between the Asian Buddhist model and that of American Buddhism. Westerners are attracted by Buddhist teachings and want to practice them themselves, not just be passive beneficiaries of the monks' spiritual status. At the same time, few American Buddhist practitioners aspire to monkhood. This is what has caused Shunryu Suzuki-roshi to quip "you Americans are not quite monks, but not quite lay-people either". As such, the American laity objected the monastic order being placed on a higher plane, as exemplified in such acts as monks not returning bows. Thus, the traditional divide between the monastic order and the laity was broken in America; and the result is that contrarily to the Asian model, the American laity is the driving force of Buddhism.
A series of scandals affecting the spiritual leaders of these communities in the 1980s and 1990s has slightly modified the pattern of development of American Buddhist centres. The scandals came to light first through Richard Baker-roshi, dharma-heir to Shunryu Suzuki-roshi and his successor as leader of the San Francisco Zen Centre. Indeed, it became known in 1983 that he was conducting an affair with a married student. Following this revelation, several others came to light, including further affairs with students and abuse of power, as witnessed by his three residences, where triplicated libraries were to be found, and his ownership of an expensive white Audi. Baker-roshi resigned from his position following the scandal, though he continued teaching in a new centre near Los Angeles. Following this incident, Jack Kornfield conducted a survey among Buddhist teachers, and found that 34 of the 54 he interviewed had conducted inappropriate relationships with their students. Following the report, scandals erupted in other centres in the 1980s and 1990s, involving Ozel Tendrin, Trungpa Rinpoche' successor at the Vajracharya, the Los Angeles Zen Centre, the New York Zen Centre, and Sogyal Rinpoche, author of the popular Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.
The reactions to these scandals were varied, ranging from considering the wisdom of the teacher as separate from the failure of the person to outright condemning and calls for dismissal. The consequences though were consistent throughout; the scandals basically prompted a re-examination of the hierachichal structures within Buddhist Centres and their modification towards a more democratic outlook. Jack Kornfield has identified four trends which illustrate the directions he has identified in American Buddhism in recent years: democratisation, feminisation, integration and shared practice. We shall use these categories as a framework for the examination of the recent evolution of Buddhism in America. These developments are the keys to understanding the transformation of Buddhism in America into a new entity, which would be unique to the United States, and which can be termed "American Buddhism". The implication of this transformation is the movement of Buddhism away from the status of imported religion to that of fully integrated national feature.
There have been various attempts at explaining the conduct which has lead to the disgrace of so many Buddhist teachers. It has been argued that as Asian teachers are removed from the well-established and regulated social norms they are used to, the deregulated atmosphere to which they are exposed can lead to abuse. At the same time, it has been acknowledged that all to often, the readiness with which the student grants the master authority and control makes abuse easy to carry out. In any case, these scandals have prompted a move away from the traditional hierarchical Asian model of organisation to more egalitarian, democratic structures, in tune with the way the West has applied democracy. We have seen that Buddhism in America was laity-driven. It is thus natural that an organisational structure built for the needs of Asian laity did not fit the purposes of its American counterpart. The hierarchical structures were thus in many places recast to take account of these desires: thus the San Francisco Zen Centre decided to elect an new abbot every four years, and the members of the main Committee were also to be elected rather than appointed by the abbot. Similarly, the Vajracharya has opted for a rotating abbot-ship with limited powers.
The move away from the traditional structures has also marked a move away from the patriarchy that characterised the Asian Sangha. There had been no orders of nuns in Asia since the demise of the Chinese bikkhuni order during the first millennium, and as such once again the traditional Asian Buddhist structures were unsuited to the development of Buddhism in the West. The education women received in America and the strong feminist movement in America made many American followers unprepared to the largely sexist Asian model. At the same time, the large percentage women in the laity combined with the laity's weight in America gave importance to their claims. The degree to which feminists admonish change is varied, ranging from Boucher's argument that women's spirituality is different from men's and should be treated as such, to Rita Gross' calls on women to take greater individual responsibilities in dealing with their male teachers. In any case, the importance of women within the American Buddhist communities has been several times verified by the positions they have attained within Buddhist organisations. According to Guy Frondsal, 50% of Vipassana teachers in America are women; the confirmation of this trend, if necessary, came when the San Francisco Zen Centre, one of the USA's largest organisations, named Blanche Hartman as its Abbess in 1996. The contribution of women to the Buddhist academic landscape has been to the measure of the importance they have attained; books by Sandy Boucher, Lenore Friedman or Joanna Macy have had an important impact on the shaping of American Buddhism.
The theme of integration covers several aspects of the development of Buddhism in America. Kack Kornfield primarily insist on the integration of Buddhism to everyday life; indeed, as we have seen the American Buddhist community is lay-oriented, and as such the patterns of Buddhist practice have to be supple enough to authorise its members to practice Buddhism as well as carry on with their everyday lives. Thus, to facilitate this integration, arrangements such as family retreats, urban study groups, shorter retreat periods and more flexible time schedules have been made throughout American Buddhist centres. However, several Buddhist historians have pushed the meaning of the term a little further, and integration has come to take the more general signification of the overall incorporation of Buddhism in the American lifestyle. Thus, for instance, a number of gays have found themselves attracted to Buddhism by the inclusive message it presented. This has lead to the formation of several gay Buddhist centres, such as the Hartford Street Zen Centre in San Francisco or the Seattle Gay Buddhist Fellowship. Similarly, these centres have organised special "gay retreats", in which all of the participants are homosexual. As Philip Whalen, director of the Hartford Street Zen Centre, has noted, the teachings and methods of gay Buddhist organisations tend to be identical to those offered in other centres, but the fact that they are openly gay removes the possibility of this causing any issues with either masters or fellow students. Moreover, American Buddhism has come to reflect a keen interest in political and social welfare of its members. This has long been a precept of Christianity and Judaism, which as we know is where most contemporary Buddhists come from; as a result a number of organisations and activities have evolved around the principle of social or economic altruism. This has come to be known as "engaged Buddhism", a term coined by Vietnamese activist Thich Nhat han, although he originally meant it to include Buddhism in all aspects of everyday life. An excellent example of such an organisation is the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, co founded by Robert Aitken and including Gary Snyder, Thich Nhat han and Joanna Macy, which aims to inform the Buddhist and peace movements of each other. Recent social action has included the organisation of service projects in Burma and Tibet, as well as work on human rights issues in Asia. Many centres have also formed retreats and shelters for the homeless or those affected by AIDS, following the example set by Glassman-roshi of New-York: in 1993, he set up a series of projects aiming to help the homeless such as a shelter complex and a bakery, in which they are trained and provided with jobs. He also runs a "street retreat" yearly, in which participants take up the life of homelessness for 5 days in New York, with the aim of increasing social awareness with his members.
Kornfield has identified shared practice as the final key to understanding the development of Buddhism in America. As an example, he cites a series of meetings he initiated in the past few years involving many of the senior Buddhist teachers in the West. According to him, those present were struck by the fact that in many cases the situations and challenges they had to face were similar; they were therefor able to share their wisdom and learn from one another, thereby furthering the cause of Buddhism in America. Although he doesn't specify this, one might imagine that he concludes from this discussion that the common elements of different Buddhist streams will be more efficient in furthering the Buddhist cause than they are separately; and therefor that further communications between the different groups will accelerate not only the development of Buddhism in the USA, but also the development of a specifically American Buddhism. According to him, the communication between different Buddhist factions has and will lead to cross-fertilisation and the sharing of practices, leading eventually to an American Buddhism. To Rick Fields, the presence of the different strands of Buddhism on the same soil is the most important element to the development of a specifically American Buddhism. It has to remembered that such proximity between different schools of Buddhism is unprecedented: in Asia, Buddhism migrated very slowly, and took centuries to take a specifically national form. For instance, in China it took over five centuries steeped in Chinese culture, mainly Taoism and Confucianism, to take the form it has today. Moreover, it is only recently that communication networks have enabled different cultures to have contact with one another, and thus Buddhist schools remained very much in ignorance of each other. For instance, it was only upon Gary Snyder's visit in 1962 that the XIVth Dalai Lama learnt that the Zen method of meditation was almost identical in practice to his own. This problem was broached byColonel Olcott in the 19th century; yet as Kornfield points out, it is only with the means of communication available today and within the speed and pace of American culture that these gaps can be bridged. Fields has already pointed to some shared practices, such as Trungpa Rinpoche's use of Zen meditation cushions; and Kenneth Tanaka points to others, such Seung Sa Sunim's "Korean Zen", a blend of Korean Buddhism and Japanese Zen forms, or "Vipassana-Zen", a form of meditation created by the Gay Buddhist Fellowship in San Francisco. In fact, according to Don Morreale's 1998 survey of Buddhist Centres in America, the number of such hybrids of different traditions, which he calls "Buddhayana", has increased almost tenfold in the past ten years, and numbers almost as many meditation centres in the USA as the Theravada tradition.
Robert Thurman takes the argument one step further, arguing that Buddhism has to "cease being Buddhism" if it wants to accomplish its mission in America. According to him, Americans should place Buddhist methodologies within the frameworks of their own traditional religions, thus suggesting that Buddhism was to lose all of its form to keep only the content, which could then be applied without the cultural baggage it had acquired in the East. This can be linked to the efforts of Colonel Olcott of making Buddhism more palatable to Westerners by bridging the divide between the many different Buddhist sects: for what better way to do so than to remove all sectarian content from Buddhism. More recently, this bears some resemblance to the argumentation put forward by Joseph Kornfield. According to him, "for our time and culture, the straightforwardness and simplicity of mindful practice will speak best to the hearts of North Americans"; furthermore, speaking of the Insight Meditation society which he co-founded, he said that "much of the ritual, Eastern culture and ceremony was left behind in Asia, not because we don't value it but because we felt it was unnecessary". Basically, Kornfield is arguing here that the most important part of Buddhism, in fact the only important part in Asian Buddhism, is its practical applications, especially the practice of meditation. Rick Fields has noted that many American Buddhists tend to place the emphasis on such practices, as opposed to the whole package of Buddhism coming from the East: he points to the Insight Meditation Society, which teaches Vipassana meditation without its Theravada context; or even to Beat Zen, which was more interested in the practice of zazen than in its theoretical aspects such as sanzen or flower-arranging. This has lead him to wonder whether this was the root of American Buddhism; whether it was going to discard the rituals, ceremonies and theories attached to Asian Buddhism to keep only its practical aspects, and eventually evolve its own set of rules and rituals based upon its own requirements. This is of course based on the precept that many such rules and rituals are specific to Asian cultures, and have evolved within these cultures to fit their specifications. Once taken out of its culture of origin, a given trend of Buddhism looses its context; however, its essential teachings remain, as shown by the similarity between the core teachings of various Buddhist trends. This is in essence what Colonel Olcott had understood in the 19th century; and it is in essence what Robert Thurman is suggesting, namely that to become American, Buddhism needs to concentrate on those essential teachings and lose its specifically Asian cultural baggage. What he means by "Buddhism without Buddhism" is essentially the discarding of that cultural baggage, which has given Buddhism in the West such Eastern connotations. According to him, Buddhism needs to rid itself of all of those connotations by keeping only its core practices, which are presumably universal and applicable in any culture. However, he takes the argument one step further by suggesting that Americans take these practices and apply them to their existing cultural environment, as opposed to evolving a new type of Buddhism which would be specifically American.
Thus, it can be seen that these four trends in the recent developments of Buddhism are also understood by most as being the key to its future developments. Consequently, the shaping of an American Buddhism depends to a great extent on the importance each of these four trends will be given; indeed, the future of American Buddhism lies in the combination of these four trends and the dosage each of them within this combination. As a result of its importance, the issue at hand has caused a great amount of controversy. Buddhist historians today have tended to consider that there are two parts to Buddhist teachings: what Daniel B. Stevenson has called its "liberative insights", and what he termed its "expediency". According to him, the "liberative insights" are the essential Buddhist teachings, what we have until now called its core practices; and the "expediency" is the way in which those teachings are applied to a given cultural environment, and is malleable or even dispensable. We have up to now called this Buddhism's "cultural baggage". There are two main problems which we can draw from this interpretation. First of all, as Gil Frondsal explains, the "expediency" of Buddhism, which he calls the "Path to Liberation", concerns the application of Buddhism to everyday life: it is aimed at teaching us how to engage with the conventions of Buddhism and the cultural conditions to gain maximal personal, social and economical wealth. This represents a very important part of Buddhist teachings, which he considers cannot be entirely discarded; for indeed, Buddhism is only useful if it is applied to everyday. At the same time, it is true that very many of these teachings have been evolved within the cultural framework of Asia, and are thus not applicable to the West. Examples of this include specifically Asian rituals, the art of flower-arranging in Zen Buddhism, or more debatably the clothing worn by monks, which may be inadapted to certain climatic conditions. This brings us to the second difficulty we might deduce from this interpretation: namely distinguishing what of the Buddhist teachings are essential, and what isn't. Indeed, how does one assess what is important in Buddhist scriptures, and what isn't ? To what extent are certain requirements tailored specifically to Asian cultures, and to what extent are others essential Buddhist teachings which have since been incorporated into the East ? Given the vagueness of the various Buddhist scriptures, the difficulty lies in telling one from the other; namely, which parts of the teachings are core practices and which are cultural baggage, what is necessary to the experience of Buddhism and what is malleable, if not discardable. Much of the debate about the future of American Buddhism basically hinges around this point.
We have seen the arguments of one party, which calls for the elimination of all but the practice of mindfulness, in order to remove any cultural inadequacies from Asian Buddhist teachings. On the other hand, many call for the conserving of all the existing Asian rules, on the principle that it is better to keep the rules even though they might not all be understood than lose an essential portion of Buddha's teachings. This is the case of Paul D. Numrich, a Theravadin scholar. According to him, the establishing of Buddhism in the USA depends on indigenous monks upholding the monastic discipline by reciting its precepts. To support his argument, he draws on a quote from Theravada literature concerning its establishment in Ceylon which asserts that "the roots of Buddhism shall be deep once a young man from Ceylon will have gone forth, learnt the monastic discipline and recited it in Ceylon". Basically, there is no Buddhism without the Sangha, and no Sangha without the Vinaya, which is why the latter must be upheld. Several modifications have already been made, such as the creation of the status of "Bodhicari" (lay minister) to accommodate difference in approach American Buddhists have to Asian Buddhists. At the same time, a rigid upholding of monastic rules has lead to several incongruous situations. For instance, the traditional dress requirements are largely unsuited to the American climatic conditions; yet despite several requests on the part of Asian American ministers, suggestions of limiting the wearing of robes to ritual occasions or the creation of a "proper winter uniform" have fallen on deaf ears. Moreover, the restrictions in the Vinaya concerning monks' relations with women are largely unsuited to the American cultural climate: given its emphasis on laity and the equal numbers of men and women in Buddhism, along with the strong feminist current in the USA, the requirement of monks not to touch, be alone or travel with a woman seem largely unnecessary. Although Numrich does see the point of such "minor" modifications, this is not the case of the Theravada authorities; and this lack of pliability is maybe the explanation for the non-existence of indigenous Theravada monks in America today.
Thus, we have been able to examine the arguments of the proponents of both extremes of the case: on one hand, those that believe that very little, if any, of the rules or so-called "expediency" of Buddhism as we know it should be kept, to the point of total integration of the Buddhist practices into the existing American cultural landscape; one the other, those believing in only minimal modifications, at the risk of maintaining rule that are inadapted to the American situation. The disadvantages of both viewpoints are apparent enough. On one hand, the Buddhist tradition in America is still very young; most Buddhists in America today are first- or at best second-generation Buddhists, and thus have little hindsight with which to judge the traditions they have chosen to live by. The argument that rules have to be understood before they can be changed finds a case in point here. Although it is unlikely that anyone can ever claim to complete understanding of both the American cultural landscape and those rules, which are de facto exclusive, it will certainly take a longer teething period for Buddhism and American culture to get used to each other. Moreover, it has to be kept in mind that at present, Buddhism is still very much marginal in American society, and that depriving Buddhist practices of the structural framework provided would also deprives them of a social context. This may eventually be desirable; but as of yet, many American Buddhists feel they need this social context, as witnessed by the high percentage finding it impossible to practice Buddhism out of a centre or a retreat. Removing the entire social context thus runs the risk of losing both the practices and the cultural framework of Buddhism, as the minority practising Buddhism would find itself overrun by the by and large unaccomodating American culture. On the other hand, the blind application of inadapted rules is also misplaced. We have seen that American Buddhism is laity-oriented, and thus that the way it is practised differs much from that in Asia. Moreover, items of form such as the clothing monks are to wear or the way a monk is to behave with women were quite obviously evolved in a specific cultural background; and once it is removed, they become devoid of meaning. Thus, the traditions of Asian Buddhism may also have to be modified to accommodate the cultural context in which they are to evolve.
Historians such as Rick Fields or Charles Prebish tend to agree with such a "middle-way" approach. From his personal experience both as an American Buddhist and from having studied Buddhism in Tibet, Rick Fields concluded that Americans still had a lot from the Asian traditions concerning the application of Buddhist principles to everyday life, including the social, economic and political fields; at the same, time, he believes that the incorporation of various aspects of American culture into American Buddhism are inevitable and, in most cases, beneficial. Similarly, Charles Prebish emphasises the dual necessity of preserving the authenticity of tradition and at the same time making appropriate adaptations to the needs of a new clientele in a new cultural setting. If these things are not done, Buddhism cannot according to him flourish as both truly "Buddhist" and truly "American.". Prebish also seems to think that Buddhism in America will benefit not only from its acculturation to America, but also from its encounters with other religions. At the same time, he chastises Jack Kornfield for arguing that Buddhist meditation is the only element that should be kept from Asian Buddhism, thereby suggesting that a certain amount of caution is necessary when adapting Buddhism to America.
The actual amount of Buddhists in America remains the source of contention. According to Rick Fields, there were around one million people that described themselves as Buddhist upon the publication of his book, in 1992. Researchers for ABC Television in the USA have estimate4d the amount of Buddhists in America to be in between four and six million in 1994. Around the same time though, a Newsweek article estimated that number to be 800 000, although it is unclear whether that does or doesn't include Asian-American Buddhists. Finally, a study published by Martin Baumann in 1997 estimates there to be three to four million Buddhists in the USA, of which 800 000 are of Euro-American origin. Much of the difficulty in estimating the amount of Buddhism in the USA lies in identifying who is a Buddhist. This very issue has been a source of controversy; Don Morreale illustrates the case particularly well by reporting the answer of a Japanese farm-boy who, when asked the same question in the 1950s, replied by inquired whether a cloud was to be considered a member of the sky. Basically, the debate revolves around the flexibility of the census, the criteria involved in deciding whether someone is Buddhist or not, for example whether a student having read and enjoyed a Beat Zen novel should be included to the same extent as the member of a Buddhist centre.
In any case, these estimates all place the amount of Buddhists in the USA to be in between one and two percent of the American population. This very much puts the heated debates of Buddhist historians and practitioners as to the path American Buddhism should take into perspective, and serves as a reminder of the fact that American Buddhism is still very much an alternative movement. As we have seen, its notoriety is disproportionate to the amount of its members, thanks notably to a string of eminent ambassadors, featuring prominent intellectuals and high-profiled personalities. We have noticed this to be the case from an early stage in American Buddhist history. A similar approach has enabled us to understand the divide between the so-called "white" and "ethnic" strands of American Buddhism. The debate as to which of these two groups best represents American Buddhism still rages on, as "white" Buddhists claim to have sole parentage, whilst the sheer proportion of Asian-American Buddhists tends to suggest that "white" Buddhists alone cannot claim to represent American Buddhism. We have also seen that the diversity of Buddhist sects might be having a negative impact on its growth potential, and that American Buddhism was largely a lay- and community-oriented movement.
Finally, we have been able to identify the four main currents in the recent development of American Buddhism, namely democratisation, feminisation, integration, and shared practice. We have understood that the dosage of these four elements is going to determine American Buddhism's future evolution; as to the debate concerning which direction this evolution should follow, we have seen that neither to total elimination of Eastern elements nor the conservation of all of these offered the best prospects for its future. Rather, Buddhism has the best chances of adapting by following its own doctrine of the Middle Way, by taking a path that allows for both acculturation and conservation.
It is generally admitted that the study of American Buddhism is in its infancy. However, it is also true that American Buddhism itself is still in its infancy. Indeed, its evolution as a discipline independent from its region of origin can be dated to less than sixty years ago. There have been claims that modifications in means of communication and the sheer speed of the American culture have lead the development of Buddhism in America to operate much more quickly than it had in Asia. Whilst it is true that information travels much more rapidly today than it did a thousand years ago, the same cannot be said of human mentalities; and for this reason, the development of American Buddhism will necessarily be a gradual process. Just as Buddhism both influenced and was influenced by different Asian cultures, so American Buddhism will both inform and be informed by the culture it is settling into. However, it remains to be seen both what elements of American culture it will definitively incorporate, and most importantly how it will be incorporated into American culture.
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