Emerging and Engaging: A Vital American Buddhism

Wonderful Buddhists, like Jan Willis, are teaching us how to move beyond racial and gender discrimination in our Buddhist practice. In addition, academic books like Paul Numrich's Old Wisdom in the New World, Richard Seager's Buddhism in America, and my own Luminous Passage: The Practice and Study of Buddhism in America have done a fine job of documenting the history and development of the American Buddhist movement; while more popular books like Steve Heine's White Collar Zen and Franz Metcalf's What Would Buddha Do? have showed us how to integrate sometimes complicated Buddhist notions into our common, everyday practice.

In addition, translations of more and more practice Buddhist texts are being added to our already healthy list of scripture translations, helping us balance and integrate all aspects of our lives as American Buddhists. Perhaps we can even consider English as the newest canonical language, as some scholars have suggested. And it's no accident that more than 50 percent of Buddhist Studies scholars in North America are also practicing Buddhists, albeit perhaps quietly so.

Finally, a superb group of new young scholars is helping us understand developments that promote both our practice and study. Buddhist communities nationwide are beginning to share their practices, rituals, and cultures in a complex hybridity that benefits all. Research and writing by young scholars like Shannon Wakoh Hickey is helping us finally move beyond the outdated categories like "two Buddhisms" and "three Buddhisms" that had previously been used to describe Buddhism in the West and into a clearer picture of "American Buddhism." And new theories, like Jeff Wilson's application of "regionalism" to Buddhist communities around the country, even within the same sectarian denomination, are helping us decipher the complex relationships in the overall Buddhist community in America.

Don Morreale titled the introduction to his 1998 volume The Complete Guide to Buddhist America "Everything Has Changed in Buddhist America." Now, little more than a decade later, we can see just how right he was. It wasn't easy being a pioneer in the study of American Buddhism, but it's a lot of fun now imagining what lies ahead.


Charles Prebish holds the Charles Redd Chair in Religious Studies at Utah State University. He has published twenty-one books and more than seventy-five scholarly articles and chapters. His books Buddhist Monastic Discipline (1975) and Luminous Passage: The Practice and Study of Buddhism in America (1999) are considered classic volumes in Buddhist Studies. Dr. Prebish is the leading pioneer in the establishment of the study of Western Buddhism as a sub-discipline in Buddhist Studies. In 1994, he co-founded the Journal of Buddhist Ethics, the first online peer-reviewed journal in the field of Buddhist Studies; and in 1996, co-founded the Critical Studies in Buddhism series at Routledge. In 2005, he was honored with a festschrift by his colleagues entitled Buddhist Studies from India to America: Essays in Honor of Charles S. Prebish.

7/5/2010 4:00:00 AM
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