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American Buddhism as a Way of Life

Gary Storhoff, John Whalen-Bridge

Publication Year: 2010

Explores a range of Buddhist perspectives in a distinctly American context. The US seems to be becoming a Buddhist country. Celebrity converts, the popularity of the Dalai Lama, motifs in popular movies, and mala beads at the mall indicate an increasing inculcation of Buddhism into the American consciousness, even if a relatively small percentage of the population actually describe themselves as Buddhists. This book looks beyond the trendier manifestations of Buddhism in America to look at distinctly American Buddhist ways of life—ways of perceiving and understanding. John Whalen-Bridge and Gary Storhoff have organized this unique collection in accordance with the Buddhist concept of the Three Jewels: the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. The Buddha section discusses the two key teachers who popularized Buddhism in America: Alan Watts and D. T. Suzuki and the particular kinds of spirituality they proclaimed. The Dharma section deals with how Buddhism can enlighten current public debates and a consideration of our national past with explorations of bioethics, abortion, end-of-life decisions, and consciousness in late capitalism. The final section on the Sangha, or community of believers, discusses how Buddhist communities both formal and informal have affected American society with chapters on family life, Nisei Buddhists, gay liberation, and Zen gardens.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Title Page

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Copyright

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Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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In Memoriam, Roger Corless (1938–2007)

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pp. ix-

Meeting Roger some fifteen years ago at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting was the beginning of a major friendship. Little did I know that he was such a highly respected scholar. However, as he would remind me, he did Professor very well. Roger was born on Mercyside, England in 1938, and was brought up in the Church of England, but ...

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Foreword

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pp. xi-xii

“Hold back the edges of your gowns, Ladies, we are going through hell.” That’s how William Carlos Williams introduced American readers to Allen Ginsberg’s 1956 volume, Howl and Other Poems.1 That was an appropriate herald for Ginsberg’s poetic rant, but readers of this collection of scholarly essays, American Buddhism as a Way of Life, require a different sort of introduction. Few of you are wearing ...

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Introduction: American Buddhism as a Way of Life

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pp. 1-10

Because of the focus of media, celebrity converts, popular film, and the popularity of the Dalai Lama, most Americans would find it difficult to overlook the prominence of Buddhism in American culture today, even though fewer than 1 percent of Americans are Buddhists.1 It is clear that non-Western religions, especially Buddhism, are transforming the American ...

Part I: Buddha: The Teacher as Immigrant

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1 The Authenticity of Alan Watts

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pp. 13-38

Alan Watts (1915–1973) was one of the most influential teachers of Buddhism in mid-twentieth-century America, although he was neither a Buddhist nor, to his own way of thinking, a teacher. Whatever he became, he made his way by evading conventional categories. Early on, as a student at a highly conventional English preparatory school, he distinguished himself by declaring himself a Buddhist. ...

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2 D. T. Suzuki, “Suzuki Zen,”and the American Reception of Zen Buddhism

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pp. 39-56

Perhaps no single individual has had greater influence on the introduction of an Asian religious tradition in America than Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki, the Japanese Buddhist scholar whose very long life spanned the period from the early years of Japan’s Meiji Restoration through the American counterculture of the 1960s. Almost single-handedly, he made Zen Buddhism, previously unknown to Americans, a focus of ...

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3 My Lunch with Mihoko

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pp. 57-66

Allen Ginsberg lay in a coma, dying. An oxygen tube laced across his nose as he tossed and turned against his portable hospital bed. Sitting beside him that early April night, I held his cool, surprisingly delicate hand and meditated with him despite his coma. I breathed in, and he breathed in, then breathed out. Both of us became one breath of bare attention. Suddenly, as if distracted by a thought, he tossed ...

Part II: Dharma: Doctrine, Belief, and Practice in America

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4 What Can Buddhist No-Self Contribute to North American Bioethics?

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pp. 69-82

How can the Buddhist teaching of no-self contribute to a field that presumes the existence of an independent, unique, and private individual? North American bioethics and its manifestations, particularly in the United States, assume without question that each one of us is a self, a unique person, a moral agent. This individual moral agency is the fundamental starting point for self-determination, autonomy. ...

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5 A Contemporary North American Buddhist Discussion of Abortion

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pp. 83-100

In current North American discourse, abortion certainly is a contentious topic. Elections are decided by candidates’ stands on abortion, and one of the most feared developments in United States’ law is overturning the Supreme Court decision that legitimatized abortion, which many fear could happen with new Supreme Court justices. Despite the importance of this issue, it is only rarely discussed in North American ...

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6 Touched by Suffering

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pp. 101-123

The awareness of our human suffering—either through empathic realization of others’ suffering, or the painful experience in one’s own life is motivation for both philosophy and activism, for contemplation and engagement. In my own work, as someone interested in both philosophy and community work, I began my philosophic studies looking at the interaction between philosophy and activism. ...

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7 Identity Theft

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pp. 125-147

This essay will look at how contemporary American life might affect the understanding and practice of Buddhism. It has become a commonplace that in less than fifty years, beginning with the interest in Asian religions among the 1960s counterculture and the increase in Asian immigrants because of relaxed immigration rules, Buddhism has been adapting to American culture, and the debate has been ...

Part III: Sangha: Who Is an American Buddhist?

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8 Family Life and Spiritual Kinship in American Buddhist Communities

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pp. 151-165

One of the most quoted summary phrases concerning Buddhism’s growth in countries beyond its Indian birthplace is Michael Carrithers’s remark: “No Buddhism without the Sangha and no Sangha without the Discipline.”1 For Carrithers, Buddhism’s growth and survival in countries beyond India required and was predicated upon the establishment of the sangha, and its implementation, as the basis for ...

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9 Buddha Loves Me This I Know

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pp. 167-182

In the fall of 1939 two very interesting things happened to Tatsue Fujita, a Nisei1 honor student at the University of Hawai’i. A talented and exceptionally bright young woman with a reputation as a particularly strong Buddhist, Tatsue won an essay contest sponsored by the Territorial Young Buddhist Association. The contest was meant to “stimulate interest in Buddhism” among young Nisei Buddhists. ...

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10 Analogue Consciousness Isn’t Just for Faeries

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pp. 183-194

Buddhism and Christianity, although poles apart in their understanding of what is ultimately real, propose structurally similar ways of resolving the perceived division between the universal (or absolute) and the particular (or relative).1 Both traditions profess a view of reality that is ultimately nondual, but in practice both are frequently dualistic, displaying world-denying features, opposing the body to the ...

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11 “A Dharma of Place”

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pp. 195-208

Enthusiasts of Japanese Zen gardens are used to juggling terms like wabi-sabi and yugen.1 But how often do they find themselves talking about the use of red bricks to evoke a fl owing stream, or contemplating an abstract Buddha figure made out of cement fondue? Such unusual approaches must be taken in investigating the Rochester Zen Center’s Japanese-influenced garden, where Asian and North American ...

Contributors

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pp. 209-212

Index

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pp. 213-217


E-ISBN-13: 9781438430959
E-ISBN-10: 1438430957
Print-ISBN-13: 9781438430935
Print-ISBN-10: 1438430930

Page Count: 229
Publication Year: 2010

Edition: 1
Series Title: SUNY series in Buddhism and American Culture
Series Editor Byline: John Whalen-Bridge, Gary Storhoff

Research Areas

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Subject Headings

  • Buddhism -- United States.
  • Buddhism and culture -- United States.
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