What can you tell me about Western Buddhism?

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by Avenged Sevenfold:

I am curious
any personal experiences would also be interesting to me and appreciated

Answer by Seldon Surak
it’s small

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Ali G formally a smurf

It’s rubbish i.e. a watered down version of the real thing for people who are too lame to commit.

Yahoo Robot

It’s a bastardized version of real Buddhism.


Over the last thirty-five years there has been an explosion of interest in Buddhism in Western countries. This is most obvious in the USA, where there are thousands of Buddhist centres and groups, and Buddhism is starting to have an effect on the mainstream of American society. However, Buddhism has also grown in the UK and across Europe. There are numerous Buddhist movements, not to speak of individual centres, each with its own teacher. There are many differences between countries, even within Western Europe, and there are tensions, disputes, and controversies within and between the various Buddhist schools. None the less it is clear that Buddhism has now arrived in the West and is here to stay.

Mr. Grey Smiley Face

Most of the people I know who claim to be buddhist just think it means happy go lucky and non-violence. If you ask them what the 4 noble truths are they’ll go blank.

Old guy

East, West in either location it falls short of Christian Mystical Experience.
Touched by Christ in a Zendo and never went back.


I’ve heard that on the West Coast local Buddhists will go down to the docks on a festival day and buy some live bait at the bait store, and with great ceremony, let the little fish loose back into the ocean.
Now whether that actually saves the little dudes or they get eaten immediately by bigger fish, no one knows. It’s the spirit of the thing.

M to the R Mighty RA

Calling yourself a monk but not being poor and relying on the generosity of others


It seems to me that Buddhists in the East are more content to support meditating monks, hoping to build up enough merit thereby to win a fortunate rebirth as a meditating monk with a chance in that lifetime to become enlightened. It’s a much more obedient culture.
Western Buddhists believe they’ll begin that journey themselves now. We’re a culture of individuals who prefer to be leaderless and of course that’s reflected in our approach to liberation.
Eastern Buddhists have been heard to disclaim us. But I say if a Master takes time out of his day to insult your Buddhism, you must be doing something right.

St Thomas of Borg

There are two aspects of it. There is the watered down version of it that you see in the bookstores. It really is little more than adopted positive thinking and pop psychology.
Then there is Buddhism that has taken on a distinctive Western flavor while maintaining the fundamental attributes of Buddhism: the Noble 8-fold Path, the Precepts, Uposatha Days, and so on. This is very real Buddhism, but it is generally moderated by westerners. Generally, this branch of Buddhism will fall under one of the major schools like Tibetan or Sinhala, or Thai Forest Tradition. Many westerners have a hard time understanding Asian thinking and customs, so many western monks will bring Buddhism back into the west so that westers can understand it. That’s what it’s all about.
You have to be able to separate the good stuff from the bad.
Ajahn Brahm, Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Ajahn Sumedho, Nyanaponika Thera, Ayya Khema, Bhikkhu Bodhi, Bhikkhu Nanamoli, and Nyanatiloka Mahathera are all Western monks and nuns who teach primarily westerners. This is what western Buddhism is.
Occasionally, you have Asian teachers who teach primarily westerners: Bhante Henepola Gunaratana (who currently teaches in West Virginia)
Then there are Asian teachers who taught them: Sayadaw U Ledi, Mahasi Sayadaw, Ajahn Mun, Ajahn Chah, Ajahn Lee, etc.
Western Buddhism is very real, and very distinct from the watered down version of pop Buddhism you see in the store. It’s just as real as the Buddhism you see in the forest, and is very much supported by the Asian sanghas. Ajahn Chah sometimes left his forest in Thailand to speak in the US.
EDIT–I practice alone because there isn’t a Buddhist community where I live. Most of the time, I don’t observe the Uposatha days because one of the most important aspects of the Uposatha days to a layfollower is the community of monks, nuns, and layfollowers. It’s the support of the sangha. Without the sangha, there are only the 8 precepts for Uposatha days, and I take them frequently as needed, anyway.
I get instruction from my teacher in Sri Lanka via E-mail. Any difficulties I run into in practice, I put to him in question, and I usually get my answers the next day.
Since I can’t go to a temple for Dhamma talks and meditation and dana, I subscribe to a podcast of Dhamma talks given by Ajahn Brahm from Australia. It’s the closest I can come to a sangha where I live. Other than that, it’s a very cut-and-dry Theravada practice. I get up at 6-6:30, meditate 3 times a day, keep the five precepts, and study.

Harry Lime

Sqare peg, round hole.
Western society promotes desire and ambition is seen as a strength.
Buddhism works toward the cessation of desire and ambition is seen as the cause of personal suffering.


Whether Eastern or Western Buddhism, the main idea is to discourage discursive and conceptual thinking. When this kind of thinking stops, for just a little bit, then what is common to all humans – East or West – is understood. But what is understood is not conceptual. So, then the idea of East or West Buddhism is a concept that is to be seen through.
Here is how this might work. A lesson for a “new” Buddhist is when the teacher asks the student “Where does East Meet West?” If you look down at your feet, then you may find that such a question reveals conceptual thinking because East meets West right where you are standing, of course. Certainly is beyond the concept of a map-like demarcation.
So then, there is no such thing as Western Buddhism. (Similarly, there is no such thing as a “New” Buddhist.) But still your question remains a good one because we use concepts every day to get by. These concepts may point to the non-conceptual. As you know, Buddhism adapts outwardly to any country because it is not the country that embodies the nature of what all sentient beings are. What we are is in spite of location and in support of Buddhist understanding. Buddhism may reflect many qualities of it’s environment while retaining it’s authenticity – there is no problem there. This adaptation has been going on for about 2500 years and Buddhism seems more and more relevant to many these days.
However, to me, the interesting the question is “What remains the same in Buddhism in East or West?” The thing that remains the same must have an unchanging nature. Only just a belief in any system or philosophy is always subject to change and interpretation. What Buddhists understand to be unchanging is not conceptual. Find out what that unchanging is for yourself and you will follow the Buddha’s last spoken words: “Be a lamp unto yourself.”


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