What not to say about Buddhism in America


Poking my head up out of the reading and writing (the final two weeks for completing the research paper are upon me), I must sputter two things:

(1) No one needs to write anything more about the World’s Parliament of Religions (1893) and how it brought Buddhism (for white people, that is) to North America. Yes, it’s quite fascinating, but I surely should not have to read a summary of these events in every damn academic article about Buddhism in America! (R.H. Seager edited a book about it, and you can read some chapters online, if you’re interested.)

(2) The same goes for D.T. Suzuki (1870-1966) and Paul Carus (1852-1919). Enough already. They are also quite interesting, but it’s been done!

There, I’m really happy to get that off my chest.

A few other things I’m getting tired of reading about, in article after article: Jack Kerouac and his friends, who thought Buddhism was really cool; the self-absorption of white people who have taken up Buddhism (I’m not saying they aren’t self-absorbed; I’m just sick of reading about it); and Alan Watts (1915-1973), who certainly was a key figure in the 1950s, but that time has been covered pretty well and thoroughly, so let’s move on.

The nice thing about choosing “Buddhism in America” as a research topic is that not all that much has been written about it, so you can get up to speed fairly quickly. The bad thing about this topic is the repetition. I’ve started to feel like every article contains the same old rehash, warmed over yet again. Considering that Buddhism has been in China for about 2,000 years, and I don’t get the same old story repeated to me every time I read an article about Buddhism in China, I’m pretty disgusted at all this redundancy about a country where Buddhism first stepped off a boat less than 200 years ago.

So (draws a deep breath) … I’m not rehashing any of that in my paper. That’s what citations are for.



3 responses

  1. I’m looking forward to the time when interest in “Buddhism in America” will be just about as interesting as “Christianity in America” – which is to say, not very interesting.

    In fact, I’m looking forward to the time when the word “Buddhism” falls out of usage, because people simply do the practices and no longer need the label. (Shucks, the word only goes back about 300 years, as I recall – or maybe it’s only 200. In any case, the whole notion of “Buddhism” is an invention of the Western (so-called) Enlightenment.) Good luck on your paper!

  2. Well, on the other hand, the redundancy of which you refer might also be related to the short time Buddhism has been a factor in America. I feel that modern Buddhism really didn’t gain momentum generally until the 1990’s. I had been interested in Buddhism since I read “Christian Zen” by Johnston in the early 70’s, and to see it sweeping popular culture was very interesting to say the least. The subsequent commerialism that resulted was to be expected, and continues to this day. Or else we wouldn’t have delicious Dharma-Burgers! But I agree with your opinions. It has been awhile since I read anything with any new impact. It is time to move on, and hopefully the glut of Buddhist everything will not impede publishers to consider new authors and Buddhist thinkers from being published.

  3. Mmm, I love those Dharma-Burgers! 🙂 I think some interesting new studies could be done if researchers focused on, for example:

    a) Interactions and social connections within a specific local sangha (not a whole school or sect)

    b) Philosophical trends or pathways within the teachings and literature of any of the North American or European groups

    Either one of these would be different from rehashing the same old history!