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Buddhadharma : Summer 2005
buddhadharma| 65 |summer 2005 The boos that greeted Richard Gere and other peace advocates in Madison Square Garden just after the events of September 11, 2001 may have marked a symbolic turning point in the history of Buddhism in the U.S. For three decades, Buddhism had been the Asian religious tradition Americans most loved to love. Its nonviolent ide- als, a-theological worldview, and con- templative nature were lauded, even by those who never practiced, as a valuable alternative to the aggressive extrover- sion of America’s dominant value sys- tem. Moreover, with its origins in the Beat Fifties, American Buddhism had a powerful aura of hipness – a mystique that endured as numerous Buddhists, both convert and immigrant, labored to set down roots during the 1970’s and 1980’s. In retrospect, the 1990’s, which saw a resurgent vogue for Buddhism, fueled by a widespread fascination with Tibet and the Dalai Lama, seem to have been a last hurrah in the general public’s long-standing, if only semi-informed, romance with the Buddha, dhamma, and American sangha. Whatever else one wants to say about the U.S. under George W. Bush, the zeitgeist certainly has shifted. With the nation twice at war, our major institu- tions rallied to homeland defense, and the public’s attention riveted on the Abrahamic religions. As far as major media outlets are concerned, Buddhism no longer seems to exist, a neglect that may actually aid and abet those many practitioners who are dedicated to build- ing the American dhamma. Out of fash- ion, Buddhist leaders and rank-and-file alike, whether convert or immigrant, can continue their epoch-making task of building authentic institutions suited to this country, undistracted by public acclaim and the glare of the spiritual limelight. With such concerns in mind, I picked up Wendy Cadge’s Heartwood: The First Generation of Theravada Buddhism in America, a thoughtful study of one of the major and most complex strands of dhamma tradition taking root in this country. Cadge touches on a variety of Theravada teachings in America, from S.N. Goenka’s to those of forest monks in California. But she focuses most of her attention on two Theravada insti- tutions – one immigrant: Philadelphia’s Wat Mongkoltepmunee (Wat Phila to its members), the other convert: Cambridge Insight Meditation Center (CIMC). In the course of her study, Cadge not only draws an impressive portrait of these two RichaRd hughes seageR is The auThoR of Buddhism in ameRica (columBia univeRsiTy PRess) and associaTe PRofessoR of Religious sTudies aT hamilTon college in clinTon, new yoRk. Authenticity and AmericAnizAtion heArtwood: the First Generation of theravada Buddhism in America By wendy cadge university of chicago Press, 2005 280 pages; $22.50 (paperback) reviewed by richard hughes Seager reviewS