There is a “Buddhist boom” in Brazil just as in the U.S., though Brazilian converts tend to blur the line between ethnic and convert Buddhism far more than their American counterparts.
Anthropologist Cristina Rocha arrived at that and other conclusions in her book Zen in Brazil (University of Hawaii Press), a study of “elite Brazilans” adopting the religion in recent years. The current interest in Buddhism in Brazil stems from an earlier time in the 1950s when a segment of intellectuals adopted Zen as a sign of being “modern.” But as with Americans, Brazilian converts tended to ignore or look down on ethnic Buddhists, mainly Japanese immigrants, because they didn’t practice meditation and focused largely on devotional practices, according to a review in the Chronicle of Higher Education (Feb. 17)
But Rocha found that things have changed. Brazil now tends to blur the lines scholars draw between ethnic and convert practices. In a temple in Sao Paulo, for instance, Rocha found that the Buddhism of Japanese-Brazilians and converts blend elements from different traditions. Thus, non-Japanese Brazilians participate in ancestor worship as well as meditation, “and while those rites occur on a Japanese schedule, they also happen on…All Souls’ Day for Catholics.”
Rocha looks at how Buddhism acts as a respite for elites from the violence and other problems of Brazilian society. But there was little of the “engaged” Buddhism found in the U.S. Elite Buddhists in Brazil that she interviewed were more likely to belong to the world movement to “free Tibet” than to fight poverty at home.