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Behind the Headlines: APA News Blog

Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.

Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.

September 21, 2006

Written by C.N.

Rising Popularity of Buddhism in U.S.

The history of Buddhism in the U.S. is still relatively short. It first came to the U.S. with the first Asian immigrants back in the 1800s and then enjoyed somewhat of a “trendy” fascination in the 1960s but beyond that, has not really become integrated into the fundamental fabric of American society. However, as the Christian Science Monitor reports, that may be changing as Buddhism continues to attract more followers:

Buddhism is growing apace in the United States, and an identifiably American Buddhism is emerging. Teaching centers and sanghas (communities of people who practice together) are spreading here as American-born leaders reframe ancient principles in contemporary Western terms. [T]he number of adherents rose by 170 percent between 1990 and 2000, according to the American Religious Identity Survey.

An ARIS estimate puts the total in 2004 at 1.5 million, while others have estimated twice that. “The 1.5 million is a low reasonable number,” says Richard Seager, author of “Buddhism in America.” That makes Buddhism the country’s fourth-largest religion, after Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Immigrants from Asia probably account for two-thirds of the total, and converts about one-third, says Dr. Seager, a professor of religious studies at Hamilton College, in Clinton, N.Y.

What is drawing people (after that fascination with Zen Buddhism in the ’50s and ’60s)? The Dalai Lama himself has played a role, some say, and Buddhism’s nonmissionizing approach fits well with Americans’ search for meaningful spiritual paths. . . . Even a larger factor, he suggests, is that Buddhism offers spiritual practices that Western religions haven’t emphasized. “People are looking for experiential practices, not just a new belief system or a new set of ethical rules which we already have, and are much the same in all religions,” Surya Das says.

As a believer in Buddhist philosophy, I think it’s great that Buddhism is continuing to gain followers and starting to make an imprint among many Americans. Especially in times of global conflict and hostility, the calming messages of peace, respect, and harmony that come from Buddhism are very much needed and important.

At the same time, I also hope that Buddhist philosophy and practice do not get corrupted and commercialized as another fad or the latest cultural fashion trend. In many ways, that is already happening with different elements of traditional Asian culture. I think Buddhism is more inherently resistant to such “capitalist corruption” but the possibility is always there.

May all beings be happy . . . and may all followers of Buddhism keep its message simple and pure.

Author Citation

Copyright © 2001- by C.N. Le. Some rights reserved. Creative Commons License

Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Rising Popularity of Buddhism in U.S." Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <> ().

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