- Buddhism in the West
Buddhism in the West broadly encompasses the knowledge and practice of
Buddhismoutside of Asia. Occasional intersections between Western civilization and the Buddhist world have been occurring for thousands of years, but it was not until the era of European colonization of Buddhist countries in Asia during the 19th century that detailed knowledge of Buddhism became available to large numbers of people in the west as a result of accompanying scholarly endeavours. Increasing numbers of westerners began converting to Buddhism in the mid-20th century due to the wider availability of Buddhist texts and missionary efforts by eastern monks. Beyond direct converts, Buddhist thought has increasingly influenced Western popular culture and spiritual movements during that time. Alexander the Great's conquest of much of Central Asiaset the stage for contacts between the civilizations of Greeceand Indiaand led directly to Greco-Buddhism. Buddhism is sometimes alleged to have influenced Gnosticism, a broad religious movement popular in the Middle Eastaround the time of Jesus.Fact|date=May 2008 However, according to the Macmillan "Encyclopedia of Buddhism" (2004), [(Volume One), page 159] this is speculation without historical foundation.
In the latter half of the 19th century,
Buddhism(along with many other religions and philosophies) came to the attention of Western intellectuals. The first English translation of the " Tibetan Book of the Dead" was published in 1927 and the reprint of 1935 carried a commentary from C.G. Jung. The book is said to have attracted many westerners to Tibetan Buddhism.T. Shakya, "Review of "Prisoners of Shangri-la" by Donald Lopez".]
The first Buddhists to arrive in the
United Stateswere Chinese and Japanese immigrants who established many temples mainly for their own purposes of worship. Immigrant monks soon began teaching to western audiences, as well. The broader New Agespirituality of the hippiemovement proved very receptive to Buddhist themes. In 1959 Suzuki Roshi(a Japanese teacher) arrived in San Francisco. At the time of Suzuki's arrival, Zenhad become a hot topic amongst some groups in the United States, especially beatniks. In 1965, monks from Sri Lankaestablished the Washington Buddhist Vihara in Washington, D.C., the first Theravada monastic community in the United States. Vietnamese Zenmonk Nhat Hanhbecame well known in Franceand the United States. In the 1970s, interest in Tibetan Buddhismgrew dramatically.
Today, Buddhism is practiced by large numbers of people in the
Americas, Europeand Oceania. Buddhism has become the fastest-growing religionin Australiaand some other Western nations. Many Hollywood movies with Buddhist themes, such as " Kundun", " Little Buddha" and " Seven Years in Tibet", have had considerable commercial success. [E.L. Mullen, " [http://www.unomaha.edu/jrf/OrientalMullen.htm Orientalist commercializations: Tibetan Buddhism in American popular film] "]
Alexander the Great's conquest of much of Central Asiaset the stage for contacts between the civilisations of Greece and India. Alexander himself met an Indian sage, who later burned himself. The Hellenisticinfluence in the area, furthered by Seleucidsand the successive Greco-Bactrianand Indo-Greekkingdoms, interacted with Buddhism, as exemplified by the emergence of Greco-Buddhist art.
Greco-Buddhism is the cultural merging between the
cultures of Hellenism and Buddhism, which developed over a period of close to eight centuries in Central Asiain the area corresponding to modern-day Afghanistanand Pakistan, between the 4th century BCE and the 5th century CE. Greco-Buddhism influenced the artistic (and, possibly, conceptual) development of Buddhism, and in particular Mahayana Buddhism, before it was adopted by Central and Northeastern Asia from the 1st century CE, ultimately spreading to China, Korea, Japan, Vietnam, and Mongolia.Fact|date=August 2007
Buddhism and the Roman world
Several instances of interaction between
Buddhismand the Roman Empireare documented by Classical and early Christian writers. Roman historical accounts describe an embassy sent by the Indian king Pandion ( Pandya?), also named Porus, to Augustus around 13 CE. The embassy was travelling with a diplomatic letter in Greek, and one of its members was an Indian religious man ( sramana) who burned himself alive in Athensto demonstrate his faith. The event created a sensation and was described by Nicolaus of Damascus, who met the embassy at Antioch, and related by Strabo(XV,1,73 and Dio Cassius. A tomb was made for the sramana, still visible in the time of Plutarch, which bore the following inscription:
quote|"ΖΑΡΜΑΝΟΧΗΓΑΣ ΙΝΔΟΣ ΑΠΟ ΒΑΡΓΟΣΗΣ"
sramanamaster from Barygaza in India")
These accounts at least indicate that Indian religious men (Sramanas, to which the Buddhists belonged, as opposed to Hindu Brahmanas) were visiting
Mediterraneancountries. However, the term sramanais a general term for Indian religious man in Jainism, Buddhism, and Ājīvika. It is not clear which religious tradition the man belongs to in this case.
An account of Buddha's life was translated in to Greek, and widely circulated to Christians as the story of
Barlaamand Josaphat. By the 1300s this story of Josaphathad become so popular that he was venerated as a saint.
The next direct encounter between Europeans and Buddhism happened in Medieval times when the
Franciscanfriar William of Rubruckwas sent on an embassy to the Mongolcourt of Mongkeby the French king Saint Louis in 1253. The contact happened in Cailac (today's Qayaliqin Kazakhstan), and William originally thought they were wayward Christians (Foltz, "Religions of the Silk Road").
Buddhism and Western Intellectuals
In the latter half of the 19th century, Buddhism (along with many other religions and philosophies) came to the attention of Western intellectuals. These included the pessimistic German
philosopherSchopenhauer, who encountered Buddhism, and Eastern thought in general, after having devised a philosophical system of considerable compatibility. The American philosopher Henry David Thoreautranslated a Buddhist sutra from French into English.
There are frequent comparisons between Buddhism and the German philosopher
Friedrich Nietzsche, who praised Buddhism in his 1895 work "The Anti-Christ", calling it "a hundred times more realistic than Christianity". Theologist David Loy argues that there is "a deep resonance between them" as "both emphasise the centrality of humans in a godless cosmos and neither looks to any external being or power for their respective solutions to the problem of existence". [David R. Loy, " [http://ccbs.ntu.edu.tw/FULLTEXT/JR-EPT/loy.htm Review of Nietzsche and Buddhism: A Study in Nihilism and Ironic Affinities by R.G. Morrison] ".]
The first English translation of the "
Tibetan Book of the Dead" was published in 1927 and the reprint of 1935 carried a commentary from none other than C.G. Jung. The book is said to have attracted many westerners to Tibetan Buddhism.T. Shakya, "Review of "Prisoners of Shangri-la" by Donald Lopez".] Jung also provided the foreword for the 1935 ? publication of D.T. Suzuki's Introduction to Zen Buddhism.
Western spiritual seekers were attracted to what they saw as the exotic and mystical tone of the Asian traditions, and created
esotericsocieties such as the Theosophical Societyof H.P. Blavatsky. The Buddhist Society, Londonwas founded by Theosophist Christmas Humphreysin 1924.Fact|date=October 2007 At first Western Buddhology was hampered by poor translations (often translations of translations), but soon Western scholars such as Max Müllerbegan to learn Asian languages and translate Asian texts. During the 20th century the German writer Hermann Hesseshowed great interest in Eastern religions, writing a book entitled "Siddhartha". It must also be noted that there are significant differences between the finer points of Theosophical and Buddhist Philosophy, in particular regarding the common doctrine of reincarnation, which on the surface might at first be overlooked by the interested westerner.
beat generationwriter Jack Kerouacbecame a well-known literary Buddhist, for his roman-a-clef" The Dharma Bums" and other works. Also influential was Alan Watts, who wrote several books on Zen and Buddhism. The cultural re-evaluations of the hippiegeneration in the late 1960s and early 1970s led to a re-discovery of Buddhism, which seemed to promise a more methodical path to happiness than Christianity and a way out of the perceived spiritual bankruptcy and complexity of Western life.
Buddhists Arrive in the West
The first Buddhists to arrive in the
United Stateswere Chinese. Hired as cheap labor for the railroads and other expanding industries, they established temples in their settlements along the rail lines. At about the same time, immigrants from Japan began to arrive as laborers on Hawaiian plantations and central-California farms. In 1899, they established the Buddhist Missions of North America, later renamed the Buddhist Churches of America.
Suzuki Roshi(a Japanese teacher) arrived in San Francisco. At the time of Suzuki's arrival, Zenhad become a hot topic amongst some groups in the United States, especially beatniks. Suzuki Roshi's classes were filled with those wanting to learn more about Buddhism, and the presence of a Zen master inspired the students.
Philip Kapleautraveled to Rochester, NYwith the permission of his teacher, Haku'un Yasutanito form the Rochester Zen Center. At this time there were few if any American citizens that had trained in Japanwith ordained Buddhistteachers. Kapleau had spent 13 years (1952-1965) and over 20 sesshin before being allowed to come back and open his own center. During his time in Japanafter World War II, Kapleau wrote his seminal work; The Three Pillars of Zen
In 1965, monks from Sri Lanka established the Washington Buddhist Vihara in
Washington, D.C., the first Theravada monastic community in the United States. The Vihara was quite accessible to English-speakers, and Vipassanameditation was part of its activities. However, the direct influence of the Vipassana movement would not reach the U.S. until a group of Americans returned there in the early 1970s after studying with Vipassana masters in Asia.
In the 1970s, interest in Tibetan Buddhism grew dramatically. This was fuelled in part by the 'shangri-la' view of this country and also because Western media agencies are largely sympathetic with the 'Tibetan Cause'. All four of the main Tibetan Buddhist schools became well known.
Tibetan lamas such as the
Karmapa( Rangjung Rigpe Dorje), Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Geshe Wangyal, Geshe Lhundub Sopa, Dezhung Rinpoche, Sermey Khensur Lobsang Tharchin, Tarthang Tulku, Lama Yesheand Thubten Zopa Rinpocheall established teaching centers in the West from the 1970s.
Perhaps the most widely visible Buddhist teacher in the west is the much-travelled
Tenzin Gyatso, the current Dalai Lama, who first visited the United Statesin 1979. As the exiled political leader of Tibet, he is now a popular cause célèbrein the west. His early life was depicted in glowing terms in Hollywood films such as " Kundun" and "Seven Years in Tibet". He has attracted celebrity religious followers such as Richard Gereand Adam Yauch.
In addition to this a number of Americans who had served in the Korean or
Vietnam Wars stayed out in Asia for a period, seeking to understand both the horror they had witnessed and its context. A few of these were eventually ordained as monks in the Theravadan tradition, and upon returning home became influential meditation teachers establishing such centres as the Insight Meditation Societyin America. Another contributing factor in the flowering of Buddhist thought in the West was the popularity of Zen amongst the counter-culture poets and activists of the 60's, due to the writings of Alan Watts, D.T. Suzuki and Philip Kapleau.
Historically, Buddhism has absorbed elements of the culture of the countries in which it is practiced. This can be seen in the artistic style of Buddha statues; a Chinese statue looks different from a Thai, which differs from a Sri Lankan, and similarly across most Asian countries. Different local customs are included also, and may influence the form of rituals and ceremonies.
There is a general distinction between Buddhism brought to the West by Asian immigrants, which may be
Mahayanaor a traditional East Asian mix, and Buddhism as practiced by converts, which is often Zen, Pure Land, Indian Vipassanaor Tibetan Buddhism. Some Western Buddhists are actually non-denominational and accept teachings from a variety of different sects, which is far less frequent in Asia.
The largest Buddhist temple in the Southern Hemisphere is Nan Tien Ssu (translated as "Southern Paradise Temple"), situated at
Wollongong, Australia. It is operated by the Fo Guang Shan Order, founded in Taiwan, and around 2003 the Grand Master, Venerable Hsing Yun, asked for that temple and Buddhist practice there to be operated by Australians within about thirty years. [ [http://www.nantien.org.au/ Nan Tien Temple] ]
Western Buddhism Today
Buddhismis practiced by increasing numbers of people in the Americas, Europe and Oceania. Buddhism has become the fastest growing religion in Australia [ [http://www.abc.net.au/stateline/sa/content/2003/s1099318.htm ABC - Why so many South Australian's are choosing Buddhism] ] [ [http://www.jucee.org/China/Why-is-Buddhism-the-fastest-growing-religion-in-Australia.html Why is Buddhism the fastest growing religion in Australia? by Darren Nelson] ] and some other Western nations [ [http://religions.pewforum.org/pdf/report-religious-landscape-study-full.pdf The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life - U.S. Religious Landscape Survey] ] [ [http://www.asiantribune.com/?q=node/10418 Asian Tribune - Buddhism fastest growing religion in West] ] .
Western Buddhism is almost entirely modernist, not traditionalist, skipping over the tradition to what it believes to be "original" Buddhism [Routledge "Encyclopedia of Buddhism", 2007, page 286] borrowing, and modifying, Asian practices such as the
sanghaand meditationbut largely ignoring ritual, faith, devotion, doctrine etc. Western Buddhism has been heavily influenced by the concepts of freethoughtand secular humanism.
An example of a large Buddhist group established in the West is the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (
FPMT) is a network of Buddhist centers focusing on what it claims to be traditional Tibetan Buddhism. Founded in 1975 by Lamas Thubten Yesheand Thubten ZopaRinpoche, who began teaching Buddhism to Western students in Nepal, the FPMT has grown to encompass more than 142 teaching centers in 32 countries.
A feature of Buddhism in the West today is the emergence of other groups which, even though they draw on traditional Buddhism, are in fact an attempt at creating a new style of Buddhist practice. Controversial lama
Chögyam Trungpa, the founder of the Shambhala meditation movement, claimed in his teachings that his intention was to strip the ethnic baggage away from traditional methods of working with the mind and to deliver the essence of those teachings to his western students. Chögyam Trungpaalso founded Naropa Universityin Boulder, Colorado in 1974.
Another example of schools evolving new idioms for the transmission of the dharma are the
Friends of the Western Buddhist Order(FWBO), founded by Sangharakshitain 1967, and the Karma Kagyu Diamond Way Buddhist Organisation founded by Lama Ole Nydahl.
Commercialization of Buddhism
Buddhist practitioners in the West are catered for by a minor industry that has grown up around them, providing such items as charm boxes, meditation cushions, and ritual implements. Shakya has criticized this industry as the publication of Buddhist books has uprooted small forests and consequently killed thousands of insects.Shakya, 1999, p.196]
The Dalai Lama's smiling countenance has recently appeared in advertisements selling Apple Computers, and Tibetan monasteries have formed an alluring backdrop to perfume advertisements in glossy magazines. And many Hollywood movies such as "
Kundun", " Little Buddha" and " Seven Years in Tibet" have had considerable commercial success. [E.L. Mullen, " [http://www.unomaha.edu/jrf/OrientalMullen.htm Orientalist commercializations: Tibetan Buddhism in American popular film] "]
Buddhism by country
Buddhism in Australia
Buddhism in Austria
Buddhism in Europe
Buddhism in Russia
Buddhism in Slovenia
Buddhism in the United Kingdom
Buddhism in the United States
*Fields, Rick, "How the Swans came to the Lake - A Narrative History of Buddhism in America." (Third edition, 1992).
*Loy, David R., " [http://ccbs.ntu.edu.tw/FULLTEXT/JR-EPT/loy.htm Review of Nietzsche and Buddhism: A Study in Nihilism and Ironic Affinities by R.G. Morrison] ", "Asian Philosophy" Vol. 8 No. 2 (July 1998), pp. 129-131.
*Mullen, E.L., " [http://www.unomaha.edu/jrf/OrientalMullen.htm Orientalist commercializations: Tibetan Buddhism in American popular film] ", "Journal of Religion and Film", Vol. 2 No. 2 (October 1998).
*Rich, Annet C., " [http://www.rosicrucian.com/cob/cobeng01.htm Christ or Buddha?] ", 1914.
*Shakya, T., "Review of "Prisoners of Shangri-la" by Donald Lopez", "Journal of Buddhist Ethics", Vol. 6 (1999), pp. 196-199.
*Tworkov, Helen, "Zen in America: Profiles of Five Teachers", San Francisco: North Point Press, (1989).
* [http://www.alanwallace.org/Tricycle%20Interview.pdf Tibetan Buddhism in the West: Is it working here?]
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