Thursday, February 8, 2007

The Faces of Buddhism in America

The Faces of Buddhism in America
Ed. Charles Prebish & Kenneth Tanaka
University of California Press 1998, £14.95 p/b

A decade ago accounts of Buddhism in the West dealt mainly with history, allowing just a few pages for the present state of affairs. But, as Buddhism in America has grown into a complex part of the religious landscape, a new field of study has emerged; and The Faces of Buddhism in America is an important contribution.

The first part examines the Asian traditions as they exist in America, among both Asian immigrant communities and Euro-Americans. The second engages with issues that have emerged in Buddhist America: the relation of Buddhism and psychotherapy, socially-engaged Buddhism, questions of adaptation and so on.

The articles are thorough and informative, and most contributors write with sympathy as well as understanding, but two stand out. The first is Sogen Hori’s account of how the meaning of Rinzai Zen practice changes in the American context – even while practitioners think they are staying true to the Japanese model. The second is the feminist Rita Gross’s eminently sensible engagement with the charged issues of sexual relations between teachers and students, and the notion of hierarchy. Both these essays deserve to be well known and widely studied.

review by Vishvapani, first published in Dharma Life 11, Autumn 1999

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