Notes on Western Buddhism, Brett GreiderBuddhism - Now & Then

Developing Buddhist Traditions in America and the West: The Seven Waves

1st Wave: travelers in the 1850's in Asia (19th C.) and collecting Art; sometimes called "elite Buddhism" because its proponents are privileged classes with the luxury to travel and explore, educated and collect art. Often "Orientalist" or romanticizing Buddhism, intellectuals in Europe transmitted to the American East coast.
2nd Wave: Ethnic Asian immigrants brought their religious traditions to the Western United States of America and are exploited for labor. The diverse ethnic Asian Buddhist in America keep a low profile.
3rd Wave: Japanese and other Asian influences on Western Art in late 19th and early 20th Century, both in Europe and in American landscape schools of painting. Asia is seen as exotic and "Oriental", but Buddhist studies begin serious-- though "Orientalist"-- scholarship on Asian traditions.
4th Wave: After World War II: Sympathetic response to imprisoned Japanese Americans leads to interest in Buddhism. Influence of Zen on writers and artists in America, particularly the "Beats", poets such as Gary Snyder and Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg (1950's and early 60's). Zen Centers started in major cities, with influence from Zen masters such as D.T. Suzuki and Shunryu Suzuki. Buddhism influenced the "hip" counterculture of the 60's and 70's, and many studied under teachers and traveled in Asia.
5th Wave: emergence of variety of ethnic Buddhist traditions, for e.g.,: Tibetan Buddhism after the invasion of Tibet by Chinese in the 1950's, especially because of the Dalai Lama's active leadership; Chinese immigrants (beginning in the 19th C. with immigrant workers in mining and railroad construction) and Chinese neighborhoods in major cities; Korean Buddhism; Vietnamese Buddhism, following the Vietnam war, with conscientious objectors learning "engaged Buddhism" from monks such as Tich Nat Hanh. Civil rights issues accompany the growing Asian Americans minority communities.
6th Wave: "converts" to Buddhism (non-Asians or Americanized or Westernized converts from other traditions) began to grow in a second generation of new American Buddhism; Naropa Buddhist University and other communities began to spread deeper experience and training. Mature teachers and scholars transmit the Dharma in American contexts.
7th Wave: the 21st Century of Westernized Buddhism, and "ecumenical" dialogue of diverse Buddhist groups communicating and exchanging perspectives and teachings; the "Digital Dharma" and the " Cyber-Sangha" of the Internet age, spreading Buddhism through global communication of the World Wide Web. The growing sophistication of American teachings, including feminist Buddhism, mixed teachings, emphasis on meditation, become influential on popular culture. The media get involved, including major movies and other celebrities. Australia in the Pacific identifies regionally with Asia and cross-pollinates with Buddhism, producing abundant scholarship and Web-resources. The medical professions and sciences promote benefits of Asian religious practices. Scholarship matures. 


Buddhism - Now & Then Last Updated: 11/20/02 by Brett Greider