Author Topic: The New Buddhism  (Read 3821 times)

Offline humanitas

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The New Buddhism
« on: December 26, 2009, 02:55:31 pm »
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The Western Transformation of an Ancient Tradition

James William Coleman

Oxford University Press, 2001

$25 h/b (US only)

As the title suggests, James Coleman, a professor of sociology of religion and a long-time practitioner of Zen, argues that Buddhism has undergone important transformations in its migration to the West. The West about which Coleman talks most in this book is the United States, although he does make occasional references to Buddhism in Canada and the UK. The forms of Buddhism about which he has the most to say are those that fall into one of four categories: Tibetan Buddhism, Zen, Vipassana and various non-sectarian Buddhist movements. It is under the rubric of non-sectarian that Coleman treats the FWBO, although he says that it is in many ways quite different from the typical non-sectarian Buddhist group.

Coleman's study excludes the mostly ethnic forms of Buddhism that have taken root in the West through the immigration of Asian populations. Also excluded is Soka Gakkai International, an exclusion that Coleman justifies on the grounds that SGI is so different in so many ways from other Buddhist sects that it deserves to be studied as a movement in itself. There is no doubt that had Coleman included SGI, the New Buddhism that he describes would have looked different from that outlined in this study.

The heart of Coleman's study is a questionnaire that he distributed to seven different Buddhist organisations in the US. Some of those who responded to the survey were then interviewed privately. The questionnaire was answered by 353 people, coming from two Zen centres, two Tibetan centres, two Vipassana groups and one non-sectarian group called the White Heron Sangha. While most of Coleman's data come from his survey and interviews, he also draws on a wide range of literature on the specific topics that he discusses.

When one considers the range of Buddhist organisations that Coleman chose to include and to exclude, it is perhaps not surprising that his survey shows that the typical New Western Buddhist is highly educated (51 per cent of his respondents have postgraduate degrees), relatively affluent, professional (the two best represented professions being academia and psychotherapy), white, with an average age of 46, a strong orientation towards the political left and slightly more likely to be female than male. Also not surprisingly, given this sample group, Coleman finds that over 90 per cent of the Buddhists surveyed regard regular meditation and retreats to be the most important Buddhist practices, with ritual and social services regarded as important practices by far fewer practitioners. Indeed, says Coleman, the tendency to see meditation as the soul of Buddhist practice is one of the features that distinguishes the New Buddhism of the West from the traditional Buddhism of Asia.

Other features of the New Buddhism, according to Coleman, are a pronounced resistance to organisational hierarchy and to authority figures, and a strong tendency to see family and secular careers, rather than monasteries, as ideal places for serious Dharma practice. Despite this tendency to seeing family life as a rich opportunity for spiritual transformation (in what Robert Aitken Roshi has called 'family practice'), Coleman also reports that a good many western Buddhists experience considerable personal conflict as they try to balance the needs of a family with finding time for the meditation they see as essential to healthy Buddhist practice.

Another important feature of the New Buddhism evolving in the West, says Coleman, is an increasing comfort with mixing Buddhist theories and practices, rather than holding to a single tradition in its putatively pure Asian form. Thus one finds western followers of Tibetan Buddhism reading the Pali canon and Zen classics, and Zen practitioners reading the Pali canon and reading about (and sometimes even doing) Tibetan visualisation practices. This willingness to mix traditions is not confined to drawing on Buddhist sources. Coleman also reports a readiness to combine Buddhist teachings and practices with Christian, Jewish, Sufi, Taoist and shamanistic practices, not to mention ideas from independent thinkers, such as Krishnamurti and a wide range of psychotherapists.

I was interested to learn that a significant number of people who regularly attend events at Buddhist centres for many years choose not to identify themselves as Buddhists at all, while a rather significant percentage of those who do identify themselves as Buddhists also identify themselves as Christians or Jews or as having no religion at all; this, of course, means that a certain number of western Buddhists choose not to see Buddhism as a religion.

To my mind the most insightful chapter of Coleman's book is his beautifully balanced account of sex, power and conflict. Far from a lurid account of various scandals, Coleman offers a thought-provoking series of reflections of various perspectives on these potentially troubling issues. Like the rest of the book, this chapter is informative and measured, an excellent example of the Middle Path he seeks to describe.

Dayamati (Richard Hayes) is Associate Professor of Sanskrit and Indian Buddhist philosophy at McGill University, Quebec


What do you think?

NOTE: Please direct commentary or relevant points to Soka Gakkai in the Danger Zone here.
« Last Edit: December 26, 2009, 03:22:31 pm by 0gyen Chodzom »
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Offline humanitas

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Re: The New Buddhism
« Reply #1 on: December 26, 2009, 03:02:52 pm »
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Thus one finds western followers of Tibetan Buddhism reading the Pali canon and Zen classics, and Zen practitioners reading the Pali canon and reading about (and sometimes even doing) Tibetan visualisation practices.

I keep finding myself doing this!  I thought it may have been a form of spiritual materialism like Trungpa Rinpoche talked about, but maybe it's a new non-sectarian form of Buddhism..?  I just feel such a kinship with the suttas and yet, I'm in this Tibetan lineage (Dudjom) which I really feel like I am part of as my family-so to speak-where I had my first real heart connection as a child in Nepal.  But my first real adult connection to Buddhism was Zen-ThichNhatHanh.  So I'm a completely non-sectarian practitioner.  I had attributed this to me being guilty of falling into the trap of spiritual materialism, but maybe it's just the way young people are thinking these days, they are more exposed to all forms of Buddhism because of technology and the internet is where some of us get the deepest "sangha contact" with fellow thinkers...  I don't know... maybe there's something to this neoBudhhism...?  Thoughts?  
« Last Edit: December 26, 2009, 03:23:06 pm by 0gyen Chodzom »
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TMingyur

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Re: The New Buddhism
« Reply #2 on: December 27, 2009, 12:27:35 am »
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Thus one finds western followers of Tibetan Buddhism reading the Pali canon and Zen classics, and Zen practitioners reading the Pali canon and reading about (and sometimes even doing) Tibetan visualisation practices.

... maybe it's a new non-sectarian form of Buddhism..?  
... maybe there's something to this neoBudhhism...?  Thoughts?  
I tried Zen groups and I have also read Zen books in earlier times and in the beginning but I abanoned that based on conviction attained in the course of time.
I prefer tibetan buddhism but the pali canon for me is an important and mandatory base. Since the pali canon is perfectly integrated in the Lam rim teachings of Tsongkhapa for me it is a reinforcement of his lineage. Therefore I am also respecting the Theravada tradition although I am rejecting it as far as I am concerned.  But despite of this I do not consider myself to be a "Gelug follower". I find it too restrictive to commit myself to one tibetan tradition since I do not like the "one-perspective-fits-all" mentality which often entails stereotype answers and teachings regardless of circumstances.
What I do not like about the tibetan traditions is their often inappropriate assessment of other traditions. E.g. I read in the Pali canon only after having been involved with tibetan buddhism for some time and I found that what is often "sold" as "higher teachings" by tibetan teachers can easily be found in the Pali canon too.

Kind regards
« Last Edit: December 27, 2009, 12:38:13 am by TMingyur »

Offline pickledpitbull

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Re: The New Buddhism
« Reply #3 on: December 27, 2009, 08:23:50 am »
Well, I think the author points out what would appear to be obvious on this forum, as we all seem to be a mixture of different traditions.  I would say there are many reasons for this:

First and foremost, the inability for many Westerners to find an authentic teacher.  Therefore we rely on resources such as this forum where there is input from many traditions.

Lack of geographical boundaries.  Once upon a time a monk or student had to travel far to reach a monastery.  What he could learn was limited to how far he could travel and the resources at the stopping point.  Zen and Chan literature is full of stories of the traveling student (Bodhidharma and Dogen, for example) and what teachings they brought to new lands, however, those bound by an ocean (Sri Lanka) or huge mountains (Tibet) did not have the benefit of input from other traditions.

Lack of orgainization is another contribututor to the mix.  Since few Westerners have the chance to experience any tradition in a linear progression, it's haphazard and piecemeal.  I really don't know of anyone who has learned the sutras in any particular order.  My experience is that people "shop around" for a particular tradition before they take the precepts, and by the time they do take them they have been exposed to many different areas of study.

I also think it has to do with our sense of curiosity and the ability to research, hence the educated segment of the group that the author mentions.  We are not limited to the tools that a particular teacher gives to us.

But I think most of all, it is the accepting nature of Western Buddhists to allow for debate and other opinions.  And I think this is where we shine and bring the most to the Dharma.
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Offline Karma Sonam

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Re: The New Buddhism
« Reply #4 on: December 28, 2009, 06:13:09 am »
With the ever increasing spread of the internet, it would be interesting to do the same study again in 10 years time, across the different continents and see how Buddhism and its practice has changed and where.  Would those, who in the past had been restricted to the teachings of a single monastery , now absorb other traditions and canons into their own practice?
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Offline humanitas

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Re: The New Buddhism
« Reply #5 on: December 28, 2009, 02:36:47 pm »
With the ever increasing spread of the internet, it would be interesting to do the same study again in 10 years time, across the different continents and see how Buddhism and its practice has changed and where.  Would those, who in the past had been restricted to the teachings of a single monastery , now absorb other traditions and canons into their own practice?

If one could get a grant funding the research, that could be a very interesting study indeed.  Along with a fascinating way of documenting history of Buddhism's evolution during the technological transitions...
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Chaz

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Re: The New Buddhism
« Reply #6 on: December 30, 2009, 08:38:56 pm »
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Thus one finds western followers of Tibetan Buddhism reading the Pali canon and Zen classics, and Zen practitioners reading the Pali canon and reading about (and sometimes even doing) Tibetan visualisation practices.

I keep finding myself doing this!  I thought it may have been a form of spiritual materialism like Trungpa Rinpoche talked about, but maybe it's a new non-sectarian form of Buddhism..?  I just feel such a kinship with the suttas and yet, I'm in this Tibetan lineage (Dudjom) which I really feel like I am part of as my family-so to speak-where I had my first real heart connection as a child in Nepal.  But my first real adult connection to Buddhism was Zen-ThichNhatHanh.  So I'm a completely non-sectarian practitioner.  I had attributed this to me being guilty of falling into the trap of spiritual materialism, but maybe it's just the way young people are thinking these days, they are more exposed to all forms of Buddhism because of technology and the internet is where some of us get the deepest "sangha contact" with fellow thinkers...  I don't know... maybe there's something to this neoBudhhism...?  Thoughts? 

Buddhism will change to suit the West.  It's inevitable. 

My guru has said on a number of occaisions, that Buddhism is like water.  It can fill any container you pour it into and it will assume the shape of the container, but still remain water.  Buddhism traveled from India into many places such as Tibet, China, Japan, Southeast Asia, and Sri Lanka.  With time Buddhism took on a "flavor" based on the cultural influences of the lands it was propogated in. For example, Mahayana Buddhism and Indian Tantra mixed with Bon and became what we'd call "Tibetan Buddhism".  The same will happen in the West.

Eventually.

While there have been and still are many Buddhist teachers promoting "Western Buddhism", we are still a very long way from a distinctly western form of Buddhism.  Cultural transformations of belief systems take a long time to become evident and established.  It will take even longer in the west because of all the diverse Buddhist influences in play here.  We have Tibetan Buddhism, Chan, Zen, Theravada and a myriad of sects and sub-sects within them.  They are all vying for the hearts and minds of western students.  Although we're already able to see a lot of cross-over in practices, especially between Tibetan and Zen Buddhism. "Western" Buddhism is probably still many decades if not centuries away.

What we'll need to move forward is increasing dialog between the various traditions present in the west, more and better trained translators, a stronger monastic tradition,  and most importantly,  more senior western teachers and lineage holders.

Offline humanitas

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Re: The New Buddhism
« Reply #7 on: December 31, 2009, 12:50:19 am »
"Western" Buddhism is probably still many decades if not centuries away.

Not necessarily.  There is the theory that posits that the evolution you talk about accelerates as technology's reach is amplified globally and grows in sophistication and usability.  At some point a new evolution starts to take place.  In our case it would be bio-technology and how we're starting to increase our productivity and resourcefulness.  (the theory is one Eamonn Healy's--a Chemistry professor at Austin University--has talked about)

If there were any ground to professor Healy's idea, we could see a new breed of Buddhism in a fraction of the time that evolution (as we've known it historically) has taken for centuries.  It was centuries of mankind getting by before the bronze age, and then the world changed.  Now, who knows how much faster that progress will take.  With resources like neuro-biology, AI, plus the internet, our technology is evolving rapidly... who knows what the impact will be to the form the dharma takes in the West.  Right now, we see branches of Buddhism meeting from all parts of the globe in forums like these... it's still a new thing, but I sense an etiquette is forming, a sub "culture" around being with many other kinds of Buddhists all at once all in one place.  If you think about it, almost none of OUR teachers grew up with the internet.  Our world for those starting life with these resources is much more open and limitless for growth potential.

What we'll need to move forward is increasing dialog between the various traditions present in the west, more and better trained translators, a stronger monastic tradition,  and most importantly,  more senior western teachers and lineage holders.

And again, none of this is yet ruled out, this could happen quite a bit faster these days with how instantaneous communication is.

Just a thought, not a fact. Yet.
« Last Edit: December 31, 2009, 12:56:38 am by 0gyen Chodzom »
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Chaz

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Re: The New Buddhism
« Reply #8 on: December 31, 2009, 08:32:43 am »
"Western" Buddhism is probably still many decades if not centuries away.

Not necessarily.  There is the theory that posits that the evolution you talk about accelerates as technology's reach is amplified globally and grows in sophistication and usability.  At some point a new evolution starts to take place.  In our case it would be bio-technology and how we're starting to increase our productivity and resourcefulness.  (the theory is one Eamonn Healy's--a Chemistry professor at Austin University--has talked about)

If there were any ground to professor Healy's idea, we could see a new breed of Buddhism in a fraction of the time that evolution (as we've known it historically) has taken for centuries. 

Perhaps, but I wouldn't put much stock in what a chemist has to say about cultural development and evolution.

That's not to say that it couldn't happen more rapidly.  The plains Indians of the American West developed an entirly new culture within a century or so after the introduction of the domestic horse to this continent by the Spanish.

On the other hand, the horse was single factor.  In our scenario, there is a much wider array of influences in play.  All of that will have to be reconciled to single entity before we can have a truly "western" form of Buddhism.  Right now we have things like Tibetan Buddhism being practiced by westerners in a western setting.  because of our natural tendency to cling to what we percieve to be as ours, that's not likely to change much any time soon. We'll remain sectarian in our approach to our practice for a very long time.

Offline francis

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Re: The New Buddhism
« Reply #9 on: January 07, 2010, 05:43:40 pm »
"Western" Buddhism is probably still many decades if not centuries away.

Not really, FWBO have been around since the 60's.  As it says in the extract, “It is under the rubric of non-sectarian that Coleman treats the FWBO, although he says that it is in many ways quite different from the typical non-sectarian Buddhist group”. 

So, I think it would be interesting to read what Coleman says about FWBO.
"Enlightenment, for a wave in the ocean, is the moment the wave realises it is water." - Thich Nhat Hanh

Offline Pema Rigdzin

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Re: The New Buddhism
« Reply #10 on: January 07, 2010, 08:35:31 pm »
For example, Mahayana Buddhism and Indian Tantra mixed with Bon and became what we'd call "Tibetan Buddhism".  The same will happen in the West.

I just wanted to clarify that the tantra in Tibetan Buddhism is Mahayana Buddhist tantra, and that rather than mixing with Bon, in terms of doctrine and such, some masters like Padmasambhava appropriated some of Bon's aesthetics and trappings and offering practices, such as tormas and prayer flags, but using them as representations of Buddhist principles or the practice thereof. Some of Bon's mundane, outer practices which didn't conflict with Buddhist doctrine were introduced into Tibetan Buddhism wholesale though. Bon in turn then, perhaps ironically, borrowed much from sutra and tantra Mahayana in recent centuries and can now hardly be distinguished from Tibetan Buddhism. It now has its own nearly verbatim Prajnaparamita and Madhyamaka, for instance, a doctrine of dependent origination identical to Mahayana's, speaks of refuge in the three jewels (although their buddha is named Tonpa Shenrab and is claimed to be from well before Shakyamuni's time) and generating bodhicitta; they refer to samsara and nirvana and buddhas and bodhisattvas and all that.

While there have been and still are many Buddhist teachers promoting "Western Buddhism", we are still a very long way from a distinctly western form of Buddhism.  Cultural transformations of belief systems take a long time to become evident and established.  It will take even longer in the west because of all the diverse Buddhist influences in play here.  We have Tibetan Buddhism, Chan, Zen, Theravada and a myriad of sects and sub-sects within them.  They are all vying for the hearts and minds of western students.  Although we're already able to see a lot of cross-over in practices, especially between Tibetan and Zen Buddhism. "Western" Buddhism is probably still many decades if not centuries away.

What we'll need to move forward is increasing dialog between the various traditions present in the west, more and better trained translators, a stronger monastic tradition,  and most importantly,  more senior western teachers and lineage holders.
Similar to the case with Buddhism's emigration to Tibet and other Asian countries, it's going to require the wisdom of Western practitioners with some actual realization . I know in Tibet's case, none of the adaptation happened at the hands of ordinary Tibetans who just picked and chose what they liked; there was no throwing out of the baby with the bath water. They practiced the Indian Buddhism they were taught, just like their Indian masters taught it to them, and they themselves became masters. Then they were in a position to make adaptations guided by their own realization. All too often we hear Westerners here who haven't done the hard work and have little or no accomplishment of even shamatha, much less realization, but feel qualified to pronounce what needs to go or change in Buddhism and what adaptations should be made, all just to suit their attachment and aversion, devoid of any real wisdom. I believe there are already some realized Western practitioners, though there need to be more for this process to move forward properly. I know at least in the Tibetan tradition, some very legit and well-respected lamas have even publicly recognized the realization of some of their students, with at least one such lama making an American heart disciple his lineage heir to take over with his American students when he passed away, authorized even to transmit the very pinnacle of Tibetan Buddhist teachings/practices.
« Last Edit: January 07, 2010, 08:42:16 pm by Pema Rigdzin »

Offline francis

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Re: The New Buddhism
« Reply #11 on: January 10, 2010, 01:11:23 pm »
For example, Mahayana Buddhism and Indian Tantra mixed with Bon and became what we'd call "Tibetan Buddhism".  The same will happen in the West.

I just wanted to clarify that the tantra in Tibetan Buddhism is Mahayana Buddhist tantra, and that rather than mixing with Bon, in terms of doctrine ...

Hi there Pema Rigdzin, you seem very knowledgeable on Tibetan Buddhism, perhaps you can help me. Tulku's have been much in the news recently, and I have been wondering if the system of tulku’s arose out of the Bon religion or the Indian tantric? 


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Offline Pema Rigdzin

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Re: The New Buddhism
« Reply #12 on: January 10, 2010, 03:09:43 pm »
For example, Mahayana Buddhism and Indian Tantra mixed with Bon and became what we'd call "Tibetan Buddhism".  The same will happen in the West.

I just wanted to clarify that the tantra in Tibetan Buddhism is Mahayana Buddhist tantra, and that rather than mixing with Bon, in terms of doctrine ...
Tulku's have been much in the news recently, and I have been wondering if the system of tulku’s arose out of the Bon religion or the Indian tantric? 

Oh really? What's been going on? I haven't been watching the news much lately.

As to your question, as far as I know the tradition of recognizing tulkus arose in Tibet after the first Karmapa made it known he intended to reincarnate in Tibet and left a sealed letter, only to be opened after his death, detailing the location of rebirth, the names of the mother and father, and other things pointing out the correct child. Some time later Tibetans began recognizing the tulkus of HH the Dalai Lama as well. With the Tibetan Buddhist habit of reciting prayers for the swift rebirth of one's lama so he/she may continue his/her enlightened activities, it's not surprising that this phenomenon spread. I'm not aware of any tradition to recognize reincarnate masters in India, and I'm unaware of how widespread it ever became or is in Bon.

Offline francis

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Re: The New Buddhism
« Reply #13 on: January 10, 2010, 03:19:02 pm »
Thank You :)

I‘ve been wondering about that for a while.  

Almost forgot.  The bit on the news that caught my eye, was that more and more tulkus, once a rare occurrence, are coming forward.  In some instances, more than one person is claiming to be the reincarnation of the same lama.

Cheers
« Last Edit: January 10, 2010, 06:46:32 pm by francis, Reason: More information »
"Enlightenment, for a wave in the ocean, is the moment the wave realises it is water." - Thich Nhat Hanh

Offline santamonicacj

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Re: The New Buddhism
« Reply #14 on: January 10, 2010, 10:05:58 pm »
As to your question, as far as I know the tradition of recognizing tulkus arose in Tibet after the first Karmapa made it known he intended to reincarnate in Tibet and left a sealed letter, only to be opened after his death, detailing the location of rebirth, the names of the mother and father, and other things pointing out the correct child. Some time later Tibetans began recognizing the tulkus of HH the Dalai Lama as well. With the Tibetan Buddhist habit of reciting prayers for the swift rebirth of one's lama so he/she may continue his/her enlightened activities, it's not surprising that this phenomenon spread. I'm not aware of any tradition to recognize reincarnate masters in India, and I'm unaware of how widespread it ever became or is in Bon.
All true. An obscure footnote I read somewhere said that another lama besides HHK1 figured out the process of controlled rebirth at the same time.  However whoever he was did not establish monasteries or organizations and is mostly lost to history. I liken it to Alexander Graham Bell beating out his competition to the patent office by a day and being credited with the invention of the telephone.

I'm a Karma Kagyu student, so obviously no disparagement towards HHK is intended.
Warning: I'm enough of a fundamentalist Tibet style Buddhist to believe that for the last 1,000 years Tibet has produced a handful of enlightened masters in every generation. I do not ask that YOU believe it, but it will greatly simplify conversations if you understand that about me. Thanks.

 


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