Buddhism becomes alternative religious ticket in the USA

Ekklesia, 26 Sep 2006

Fed up with both consumer-driven secular materialism and the aggressive certainties of the mainly Christian religious right, an increasing number of people in the United States are turning towards Buddhism as an alternative form of spiritual enlightenment.

London, UK -- According to a recent report in the Christian Science Monitor, an identifiably American form of Buddhism is also emerging.

Teaching centres and sanghas (communities of people who practice together) are spreading across the country as American-born faith leaders reframe ancient principles in contemporary Western terms.

Though the religion born in India has been in the United States since the 19th century, the number of adherents rose by 170 percent between 1990 and 2000, according to the American Religious Identification Survey, reports the Monitor.

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 the book Buddhism in America.

“People feel that Buddhist figures like the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh of Vietnam are contributing something, not trying to convert people,” says Lama Surya Das, a highly trained American lama in the Tibetan tradition.

He adds: “They are not building big temples, but they are offering wisdom and ways of reconciliation and peacemaking, which are so much needed.”

The Dalai Lama has cooperated frequently with leading Christian peace and justice campaigners like ex-Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, who is also a Nobel Laureate.

The two men have recently collaborated to call for an end to dictatorship and domination in both Tibet and Burma.

Thich Nhat Hanh’s works have also been widely circulated among Christians. Books on forgiveness and other themes which overlap with the Gospel have been made available through Plough Publishing, an imprint of the Anabaptist Bruderhof communities.