Buddhism has been present on American soil for nearly two centuries. During that time it has grown from a small population of almost exclusively Asian American immigrants to perhaps as many as six million followers today. These American Buddhists are a hybrid mix of virtually all American races and cultures. They are both rural and urban, come from all walks of life, and manifest an incredibly diverse spectrum of professions. What unites them is their common concern for following the teachings of the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, aimed at eliminating human suffering and manifesting compassion for all beings. This little primer highlights the vast variety of Buddhist traditions in America, focusing on virtually all of the communities in the Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana traditions. It describes the Asian Buddhist masters who brought Buddhism to America, as well as their successors and the new generation of Western Buddhist teachers who they trained and empowered. It explains the various practices these communities employ, both meditational and non-meditational. In addition, it describes the communities that have grown up in American cities and the rural countrysides. It offers a clear typology for examining the American Buddhist tradition which includes ethnicity, practice, democratization, social engagement, and adaptation. It describes how we determine just who is a Buddhist in America and how Buddhists present on American soil can work together respectfully while maintaining sometimes differing sectarian affiliations. Finally, it takes a look into the future of the coming century, imagining how American Buddhism will further develop in the coming years.
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About the Author
Charles Prebish came to Utah State University in January 2007 following more than thirty-five years on the faculty of the Pennsylvania State University. During his tenure at Utah State University, he was the first holder of the Charles Redd Endowed Chair in Religious Studies and served as Director of the Religious Studies Program. During his career, Dr. Prebish published more than twenty books and nearly one hundred scholarly articles and chapters. His books Buddhist Monastic Discipline (1975) and Luminous Passage: The Practice and Study of Buddhism in America (1999) are considered classic volumes in Buddhist Studies. Dr. Prebish remains the leading pioneer in the establishment of the study of Western Buddhism as a sub-discipline in Buddhist Studies. In 1993 he held the Visiting Numata Chair in Buddhist Studies at the University of Calgary, and in 1997 was awarded a Rockefeller Foundation National Humanities Fellowship for research at the University of Toronto. Dr. Prebish has been an officer in the International Association of Buddhist Studies, and was co-founder of the Buddhism Section of the American Academy of Religion. In 1994, he co-founded the Journal of Buddhist Ethics, which was the first online peer-reviewed journal in the field of Buddhist Studies; and in 1996, co-founded the Routledge "Critical Studies in Buddhism" series. He has also served as editor of the Journal of Global Buddhism and Critical Review of Books in Religion. In 2005, he was honored with a "festschrift" volume by his colleagues titled Buddhist Studies from India to America: Essays in Honor of Charles S. Prebish. Dr. Prebish retired from Utah State University on December 31, 2010, and was awarded emeritus status. He currently resides in State College, Pennsylvania.