Friday, November 25, 2005


What is new about the New Buddhism of America? Five things: It is meditation-centered and largely a lay phenomena. It exhibits gender parity. And it is cross- pollinating. It is socially and politically engaged.

In their book, "Buddhism" A Concise Introduction, Huston Smith and Philip Novak also confirm that the New Buddhism is :

1. 2 Meditation centred and a lay phenomenon, and must be considered together. "Down through twenty-five Asian Buddhist centuries, monks and nuns have been the tradition's vanguard, and meditation has been almost exclusively their province (and often only for an elite fraction of them). The vast majority of Buddhist laity have limited their concerns to the earning of merit--the accumulation of good karma leading to better rebirth through ethical conduct and ritual observance. The New Buddhism of America, however, has upset this traditional arrangement. First, it is largely a lay movement. And second, meditiation is not the province of a relatively few specialists, but the basic practice of the many."

A recent sociological study finds that among American Buddhists, 92.4 percent ranked meditation as the single most important activity that their group carries on' and the study's author says, "If there is a single characteristic that defines the new Buddhism for most of it's members, it is the practice of meditation." Over the first sixty years of the twentieth century, 21 Buddhist meditation centres had been founded. Between 1964 and 1975, 117 new centres were established. Between1975 and 1984, 308 more were added. And between1985 and 1997, 608 new meditation centers entered the picture, more than doubling the number that had been in existence until then and bringing the American total to well over 1,000. The New Buddhism of America has therefore given us something we've never seen before: a Buddhism that is predominantly lay and meditation-centered.

3. Women and Men are equals. Although America's New Buddhism cannot be said to have broken completely with the legacies of gender inequality in Asian culture and Buddhist history, Western society's trend toward gender parity is departing from that legacy.

Sociologist James Coleman reports:

Although virtually all Asian and a majority of Western teachers are male, there are a growing number of women in top positions of respect and authority. Today, no one is surprised to see women leading retreats, giving dharma talks, or running major Buddhist centers. On a more theoretical level, no matter who occupies those positions of power, nearly all Western Buddhist groups recognize the full equality of the sexes and the ablility of all persons of either gender to realize their true nature and attain enlightenment.

4. American Buddhism is cross-pollinating. The historian Rick Fields notes that" Asian Buddhists who have not communicated for hundreds or thousands of years now find themselves sitting next to one another in a new (American) home. Never before in the long history of Buddhism have all of its major traditions entered a new area at the same time, and never before has there been so much content and exchange among these different traditions."

5. It is socially and poliitically engaged. The last element of the New Buddhism is a little different from the others. It is not as broadly characteristic of the whole fabric as are the other four, and to date it remains an eddy in the larger steam. Still, it is so important that at least one scholar has wondered whether it will become Buddhism's fourth yana or vehicle.

Like minded New Buddhists argue that working toward individual inner peace is not enough. What is also deeply needed is a corresponding effort to alter social injustices in order to lessen the suffering of humanity at large. It's called engaged Buddhism.

Buddha says; "Loss of minfulness is why people engage in useless pursuits, do not care for their own interests and remain unalarmed in the presence of things which actually menace their welfare".

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