American Folk Buddhism

Note: for an updated version of this entire blog series, see my ebook Sasana: the blossoming of the Dharma (pdf).

How did it happen that Western Buddhists so quickly gained a monopoly on real Buddhism? We in the West certainly don’t seem to have gained much of a handle on Christianity over many centuries, and the average citizen of my country is pretty clueless about science., history, and almost everything else outside of popular entertainment. Yet we meditate and study Buddhist philosophy while people in Asian temples burn money and appease spirits through elaborate rituals. How were we the ones to arrive at this precise understanding of something as sophisticated and refined as Buddhist thought and practice?

There is a common kind of hubris in the West that often goes as far as trying to save Buddhism from Asian misunderstanding. I began wondering about this some years ago after many years of training in the Western American context. Often Americans who come to Buddhism are dismayed at what gets included in Buddhism in Asia, and yet American Buddhism sprang out of the Asian communities and was inspired by Asian teachers. This does not add up. What gives?

This is an ongoing weekly series, to be continued.

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