A Future Is Possible: Buddhism in the West

In adapting Buddhism for the West, an interesting phenomenon has been what's now known as the Mindfulness Movement. Basically, it isolates a meditative component of Theravada (mindfulness), and makes it available for doctors and psychologists, educators and athletes, without referring to Southeast Asian Buddhism (Vipassana), which might otherwise distance it from widespread, mainstream interest. So it offers healing and transformation to situations where otherwise it might not reach. Yet, a year ago, David Loy and Ronald Purser sharply interrogated mindfulness (sati) taught outside its native context of wisdom (prajna) and ethics (silla).

Questions as to what is gained and what is lost continue to generate an energy worthy of consideration as an independent, vital acu-meridian within Western Buddhism. An important document to come out of this investigation, presented at the White House summit, was prepared by Bhikkhu Bodhi, limning four distinct yet overlapping modes of applied mindfulness. (This moves it beyond polarization into a more nuanced constellation of possibilities. A version can be found online at the end of Maia Duerr's interview with Bhikkhu Bodhi, "Toward a Socially Responsible Mindfulness," emanating from the White House summit.)

I continue to be heartened by scholars who bring their Buddhism to bear in their academic studies. One instance of this is the new series from SUNY, Buffalo: Buddhism and American Culture. Two recent titles from this series are both anthologies: Buddhism Beyond Borders: New Perspectives on Buddhism in the United States and Buddhism and American Cinema. (Full disclosure: I was asked to contribute an afterword for the latter.) I'm looking forward to the not-yet-released An Introduction to Buddhism in the United States, from Bloomsbury, by Scott A. Mitchell, Institute of Buddhist Studies, who always has excellent, probative, new ideas to share.

As Buddhism evolves in the West, we might consider how invested in the past the East has been, and how invested in the future the West has been: as they come together, we're finding ourselves … in the present moment.

7/1/2015 4:00:00 AM
  • Future of Faith
  • Future of Faith: Eastern Religions
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  • Gary Gach
    About Gary Gach
    Gary Gach is the author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Buddhism (Nautilus Award) and editor of What Book!? Buddha Poems from Beat to Hiphop (American Book Award). His work has appeared in such magazines and anthologies as AsianArt.com, BuddhaDharma, Harvard Divinity Bulletin, Inquiring Mind, Language for a New Century, The New Yorker, Shambhala Sun, Technicians of the Sacred, Tricycle, Veterans of War Veterans of Peace, Whole Earth Review, and Yoga Journal.
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