Popularizing Buddhism

The 1990s saw the emergence of a “Hollywood Buddhism” or a BuddhismBuddhism is a multi-hued tradition of life, thought, and practice that has developed from the teaching and practice of Siddhartha Gautama (6th century BCE) who came to be called the Buddha, the awakened one. The three major streams of the tradition—Ther... of celebrities which has continued to the present. The National Enquirer suggested that the Dalai LamaDalai is Mongolian for “ocean” and lama is the Tibetan word for “superior,” especially referring to those of superior spiritual attainment. Together the two terms constitute the title conferred upon the head monk of the Gelug school of Tibetan Bud... told Richard Gere to dump Cindy Crawford. A film about Tina Turner, What’s Love Got to Do with It, opens with the mantraA mantra is a sequence of spiritually-potent sounds or syllables used for meditation, prayer, or to accompany ritual enactments. Mantras are important in the Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain traditions. The repeated oral or mental recitation of a mantra is said ... chanting of the Soka GakkaiSoka Gakkai was founded in Japan in 1930 by an educator named Tsunesaburo Makiguchi. Soon after its founding, it became associated with Nichiren Shoshu, a sect of Nichiren Buddhism. In the early 1990s, all formal ties between Soka Gakkai International and... Buddhist movement. The Tibetan NamgyalNamgyal, which in Tibetan means literally “The Victorious,” is the name of the monastery situated in Potala Palace, the winter residence of the Dalai Lama until 1959. Because of the monastery’s location and importance, its name is frequently used as... monksA monk is a man who renounces worldly life and is ordinarily a member of a monastic order or community, thereby undertaking a special commitment to study, service, asceticism, prayer, or disciplined spiritual practice. In the Buddhist tradition, fully ord... went on a summer music tour, called Lollapalooza, with the Beastie Boys, whose song, “BodhisattvaA bodhisattva is one who has dedicated his or her life to the attainment of enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings. The bodhisattva vows to postpone enlightenment in order to help all sentient beings realize liberation. In some cases, the bo... Vow,” became a part of hip-hop culture. Bernardo Bertolucci’s film, The Little BuddhaBuddha means “awakened one” and specifically refers to Shakyamuni Buddha, also known as Siddhartha Gautama (traditional date, sixth c. BCE), the historical founder of the tradition that became known as Buddhism. All Buddhist traditions agree that ther..., follows a young Seattle boy who is seen as the reincarnation of a Tibetan lamaLama, the Tibetan term meaning “superior” refers especially to those of superior spiritual attainment. It is a translation of the Sanskrit word “guru” and is used for any venerable monk or qualified spiritual teacher..

It is clear that a celebrity embrace of Buddhism has played a role in the public perception of Buddhism. As writers such as bell hooks and Sallie Tisdale, politicians such as Jerry Brown, movie stars such as Richard Gere and Uma Thurman, and singers such as Jerry Garcia and John Mellencamp talk about their identity as Buddhists or their sympathies with Buddhism, the massMass is a term used in the Roman Catholic Church for the ritual that culminates in the celebration of the Eucharist, the central rite of sharing the consecrated bread and wine in the church community. media began presenting a “pop” form of Buddhism to a wider American audience. Building on this interest and on a growing interest in Buddhist meditationMeditation is the disciplined practice of quieting and focusing the mind or cultivating the heart’s attention. Different meditation practices commend focusing attention on a word, a prayer, a form, or the breath as a way of practice. Meditation is commo... practice, a national Buddhist magazine, Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, was successfully launched in 1991 by the Tricycle Foundation. The magazine continues to stay abreast of popular developments and features articles on the teaching and practice of Buddhism in contemporary American life, and is now just one of dozens of similar publications. Today, however, the Tricycle website goes beyond the magazine and features multimedia content, including a blog and a collection of online resources organized by Buddhist tradition (VipassanaVipassana is a form of Theravada Buddhist meditation, also called “insight mediation.” This method directs the attention toward the moment-to-moment workings of the mind and body, thereby developing “mindfulness” of the contents of consciousness a..., MahayanaMahayana, the “Great Vehicle,” is a form of Buddhism the originated in India and spread to Central and East Asia, encompassing schools in Tibet, Mongolia, China, Vietnam, Korea, and Japan. Its primary characteristics include a more supernatural view o..., VajrayanaVajrayana emerged in the 7th century CE as a subset of Mahayana sometimes seen as the third major stream of Buddhism. This tradition is most prominent in Tibet and its surrounding regions, although forms of it are found in China and Japan. Vajrayana, lite..., TheravadaTheravada, literally “the way of the elders,” was one of the eighteen earliest sub-schools of Buddhism. Today, the term designates the various traditions of Buddhism most prominent in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. Although these traditions differ in i..., and Zen, among others).

The history of Buddhism in America is evolving as fast as it can be documented. A distinctively “American Buddhism” is in the process of emerging. It will be a more multi-sided, complex tradition here than virtually anywhere else on Earth, with immigrants from old Asian Buddhist cultures mixing with new Buddhists from Euro-American, African American, and Latino/a backgrounds. In Asia, most of the Buddhist communities had literally never met one another, having lived in relative cultural and geographic isolation in Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam, Taiwan, China, Japan, Tibet, or Korea. Today, the United States is providing the context for a level of intra-Buddhist as well as interfaith contact and dialogue that is unprecedented in Buddhist history.


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