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Buddhadharma : Winter 2006
fall 2006| 48 |buddhadharma Socho KoShin ogui, alSo Known aS BiShop ogui, iS the Spiritual head of the BuddhiSt churcheS of america (Bca). rev. ron KoBata waS ordained a miniSter in the Bca in 1974. he now ServeS aS the executive aSSiStant to Socho ogui. waKoh Shannon hicKey iS a novice prieSt in the Soto Zen tradition and a ph.d. candidate in religion and modernity at duKe univerSity. duncan ryuKen williamS iS an ordained prieSt in the Soto Zen tradition and an aSSociate profeSSor of JapaneSe BuddhiSm at the univerSity of california, BerKeley. Although the counterculture of the 1960s inspired much interest in Zen and the vari- ous Tibetan Buddhist traditions, by 1975 there were no more than several hundred thou- sand Buddhists in North America. Most of them belonged to either Buddhist Churches of America, a series of predominantly ethnic communities in the Japanese Pure Land tradition, or the then- titled Nichiren Shoshu of America, popular with so-called American converts and composed largely of women and minorities. If we fast-forward to the turn of the century, most reasonable estimates cited between four and six million Buddhists in North America. Fueled by the 1965 change in American immigration law, there was a huge influx of Buddhist immigrants from war-torn Southeast Asia. In all likelihood, the number of Buddhists in North America with Asian ancestry represents about 75 to 80 percent of the total number of Buddhists on the continent. Scholars and practitioners trying to under- stand the Buddhist movement in America have, at various times, developed typologies to explain the diverse forms of Buddhism that were develop- ing. This task was complicated by the fact that in many major American cities and communities, virtually all of the Asian Buddhist cultures and sectarian traditions were present simultaneously, sometimes even in the same neighborhood. Some researchers (myself and Paul Numrich) postu- lated “Two Buddhisms,” composed essentially of Asian-immigrant Buddhists and American- convert Buddhists. Others (Jan Nattier) suggested “Three Buddhisms”: elite Buddhism, evangelical Buddhism, and ethnic Buddhism. More recently, Martin Baumann argued for “traditionalist” ver- sus “modernist” Buddhism. Other terms, such as “cradle Buddhists” and “nightstand Buddhists,” also appeared. Each of these typologies and labels had supporters and detractors, and each, to some extent, worked well as a description for a particu- lar time and circumstance. Typologies, however, are never set in stone. Forum: Diversity and Divisions in America Buddhism Today, Buddhism in America is incredibly diverse and no longer seems to fit into the neat typolo- gies of previous decades. With many Chinese and Japanese families now in their fifth and sixth gen- eration on American soil, “ethnicity” no longer works as an explanatory term for understanding differences in Buddhist practices and communi- ties. American Buddhism, if there is such a thing, is maturing in a continual process of formation and change. Moreover, as the study of Western Buddhism has developed into an exciting subdiscipline of the larger field of Buddhist studies, more fieldwork projects are revealing just how diverse Buddhist communities are becoming. New researchers like Jeff Wilson and Wendy Cadge are finding that the newest buzzword in American Buddhism is “hybridity.” Unlike the older “parallel” com- munities, in which two groups – one Asian and one convert – occupied the same temple, newer Buddhist communities are developing that bridge both sectarian and ethnic lines. Thus it is no longer unusual to find meditation groups in Pure Land temples and intra-religious dialogue groups in pre- viously convert temples. Our panelists provide an interesting mixture of old and new, male and female, meditation and faith, scholarship and practice in American Buddhism. As they explore the issue, they show that communication and dialogue – Buddhist ecumenicism – seems to be replacing the isolation that previously characterized individual Buddhist groups. Buddhism has only been on the North American continent for about 150 years, and it’s still in what Richard Seager called the “heroic age,” marking the beginning of the various com- munities. Seager points out that “even the most ardent Americanizing convert stands only a step, perhaps two, removed from an Asian teacher, who probably arrived here as an immigrant.” So while we recognize that the immense diversity in American Buddhism provides many challenges, it reflects the nature of America itself. Photos(lefttoright):donfarber;eliWilliamson-Jones IntroductIon by charles s. PrebIsh Photos:sochoKoshinogui/courtesyofbuddhistchurchesofamerica;WaKohshannonhicKey/deborahr.broWn