With a history stretching back to ancient India, Buddhism has influenced American culture since the American Transcendentalist movement in the 1830s and '40s. Only in the past few decades, however, has this transplanted philosophy begun to blossom into a full-fledged American religion, made up of three broad groups: a burgeoning Asian immigrant population, numerous native-born converts, and old-line Asian American Buddhists. In "Buddhism in America, " religious historian Richard Seager offers a perceptive and engaging portrait of the communities, institutions, practices, and individuals that are integral to the contemporary Buddhist landscape.
The book begins with a brief survey of Buddhist beliefs -- the story of the Buddha's life, the meaning of enlightenment, realization, the cultivation of nonattachment, and other core concepts -- and Buddhist history in both Asia and the United States. In part 2, Seager presents six well-crafted profiles of Buddhist traditions that have been brought to the United States from Japan, Tibet, Southeast Asia, and elsewhere. This section highlights challenges and problems that have come with transporting and adapting an Asian religion to late twentieth-century America: Who can teach and who can lead? What are the proper roles of laypeople and monks in a society lacking a strong monastic tradition?
The last section takes up the general theme of Americanization, looking at recent developments in three important areas -- gender equity, progressive social change, and intra-Buddhist and interreligious dialogue. Arguing that the gulf between recent converts and new immigrant communities is the most prominent feature of the contemporary scene, Seager assesses American Buddhism as a whole and looks into its future: Will the dharma, traditional Buddhist teachings, be watered down to suit the lifestyles of middle-class, consumerist Americans? Will this highly decentralized religion develop strong national associations, as Catholicism and Judaism have? What institutions -- universities, monasteries, or dharma centers run by and for laypeople -- will be most effective in preserving and developing an American Buddhist tradition? This lucid survey lays the foundations for understanding one of the United States' most vital new religions.
This book cries out for use as a textbook for classes on Buddhism in America. -- Franz Aubrey Metcalf The Journal of Religion This well-informed book provides a comprehensive survey of a variety of Buddhist traditions in the contemporary U.S... [its] strength, apart from being a mine of information, is Seager's insistence on taking a historically informed and comparative perspective. -- Martin Baumann Religious Studies Review Unbiased and insightful, Buddhism in America offers a view of how far the Buddhist movement has come in little more than a century and a peek at where it is going at the dawn of a new millennium. -- Don Morreale Tricycle [Columbia University] Press continues to bring excellent scholarship to the general reader with this outstanding study of American Buddhism. -- Jana Reiss Publishers Weekly Seager's account convincingly places developments within the broader context of the North American historyof religion and immigration. Apart from the perceptive observations and the straightforward structure, it is this contextualising perspective which gives the book its particular strength. Although clearly intended for a general readership, a specialist will nevertheless benefit from being directed to take the experience of 'immigrant Buddhism' as seriously as that of 'convert Buddhism'. -- AASL, PLA, University Press Books Selected for Public and Secondary School Libraries Richard Seager marks out a magnificent road map, directing us to important people, places, and issues in multifaceted Buddhist America at the turn of the millennium... Under Seager's guidance we discover a great deal about the Buddhists of America, but also a great deal about the Americanization of Buddhism. -- Paul David Numrich, director of the Buddhist Chicago Project; author of Old Wisdom in the New World: Americanization in Two Immigrant Theravada Buddhist Temples