The story of Buddhism's acceptance in the USA

by Geoffrey Goble, The Dallas Morning News, Sept 6, 2006

All Is Change: The Two-Thousand-Year Journey of Buddhism to the West
Author: Lawrence Sutin
Little, Brown, 342 pages, $26

Dallas, TX (USA) -- Lawrence Sutin's book presents the story of Buddhism's acceptance in the modern West, particularly in the United States. Yet in doing so there is no recognition of the tradition's historical development - a development that in many cases facilitated its adaptation to the American milieu.

In short: Buddhism as it is commonly known and practiced in this country has been uniquely tailored to American tastes. This is a fact that is not evident in Sutin's book and of which the author appears to be unaware.

The book describes virtually no Asian Buddhists other than those who forged successful careers by teaching Euro-American students. The bulk of the work focuses instead on the interpretation of Buddhism by well-known Western names in philosophy - Hegel, Heidegger and Jung, for example.

The book, therefore, presents a series of Western misunderstandings and errors regarding Buddhism. These errors remain uncorrected and new ones emerge, as the author's own knowledge of Buddhism is limited to the view presented by modern popularizers.

As a history of Western misconceptions of Buddhism the book might be counted a success, but the definitive account of the transmission of Buddhism to the West remains unwritten.