Stephen Prothero of Boston University even sees the state of Buddhism in the U.S. changing in the aftermath of the terrorist attack.
Like other pop icons in American culture (such as the David Letterman show), the “cool” and ironic style of Buddhism in the U.S. is losing its currency and persuasive power in the face of the attacks, Prothero said at a recent conference of the Religion Newswriters Association in Boston last month. He added that the passing of “cool culture” clears the way for more attention to be paid to the strengths of immigrant Buddhism, which, among other things, has a stronger monastic tradition.
Although issued before the attacks, the 10th anniversary issue of Tricycle magazine (Fall) wrestles with Prothero’s diagnosis, particularly looking at how the various movements will mature and survive Buddhism’s fashionable phase.
An article on Zen Buddhism, perhaps the most publicized and “cool” of the Buddhist movements, says that leadership issues will preoccupy this branch for the next decade, as a lack of oversight and intervention is still evident (a decade after misconduct and abuse charges of several Zen leaders). There is no central authority in Zen, nor clear answers about how much power priests or laypeople hold. In one way, this is creating a new blending of lay and monastic practice, with Zen Buddhists leading strongly devotional lives while balancing family and career. But in the near future, “Steadiness will be the watchword, not fashionableness or visibility,” says one Zen leader.
The same goes for Vipissana Buddhism, though its specialty of insight and mindfulness meditation has been increasingly adapted to a wide range of religious and secular settings (such as pain and stress management). But the growth of Vipissana retreat houses, meditation centers and even retirement centers may channel some of that interest back to the movement. Additionally, new translations of the ancient discourses of the Buddha and a greater range of traditional practices flourishing at these centers will also provide more roots for the movement. For instance, the practice of lovingkindness, the meditative cultivation of goodwill toward oneself and others, has become a cornerstone of Vipissana.
Prothero’s forecast of a greater interchange between ethnic Buddhism and “white,” convert Buddhism is evident in the Shin movement and the changes it has recently undergone. The Japanese-based movement was once strictly ethnic and paid far greater attention to a Protestant-like, faith-based spirituality than meditation or contemplation. But increasingly, the “ethnic Buddhist temples have rejected the earlier service formats and emphasize sutra chanting,” as well as incorporating ethnic rituals and activities not normally part of the Shin tradition in Japan.
The recent publishing of Shin founder Shinran’s writings is leading to the realization among cradle and a new stream of converts that the movement is similar to meditation-oriented Mahayana Buddhism, teaching impermanence, the bodhisattva ideal and other classic doctrines. Soka Gakkai has meanwhile cut its ties with its Japanese mother body, Nichiren Shoshu, and distanced itself from its controversial practices and history. Known for its practice of chanting for spiritual and material benefits, Soka Gakkai is now de-emphasizing the “material goods” prominent in the U.S.
The movement’s strongly multicultural thrust as well as its non-meditative nature may help bridge the gap between white and ethnic Buddhists, writes Hamilton College professor Richard Hughes Seager.
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