American Buddhist Movement

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The American Buddhist Movement, also known as the Association of American Buddhists, is a group which promotes Buddhism through publications, ordination of monks, and classes.


Organized in 1960 by American practitioners of Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana Buddhism, it does not espouse any particular school or schools of Buddhism. It respects all Buddhist traditions as equal, and encourages unity of Buddhism in thought and practice. It states that a different, American, form of Buddhism is possible, and that the cultural forms attached to the older schools of Buddhism need not necessarily be followed by westerners.

American Buddhism has seen a fifteenfold increase since the 1960s and today is currently the third largest religion in the United States, with Buddhists making up 1 percent of the American population (about three million people).[1] The term “American Buddhism” can be used to describe Buddhism groups within the U.S, which are largely made up of converts.[2] This contrasts many Buddhist groups in Asia, which are largely made up of people who were born into the faith.[3]

Rita M. Gross, a feminist religious scholar, claims that many people converted to Buddhism in the 60s and 70s as an attempt to combat traditional American values. However, in their conversion, they have created a new form of Buddhism distinctly Western in thought and practice.[2] Democratization and the allowance for women in leadership positions has been one of the most influential characteristics of American Buddhism. However, another one of these characteristics is rationalization, which has allowed Buddhists to come to terms with the scientific and technological advantages of the 21st century. Engagement in social issues, such as global warming, domestic violence, poverty and discrimination, has also shaped Buddhism in America. Privatization or ritual practices into home life has embodied Buddhism in America. The idea of living in the “present life” rather than focusing on the future or the past is also another characteristic of American Buddhism .[1]

American Buddhism was able to embed these new religious ideals into such a historically rich religious tradition and culture due to the high conversion rate in the late 20th century. Three important factors led to this conversion in America: the importance of religion, societal openness, and spirituality. American culture places a large emphasis on having a personal religious identity as a spiritual and ethical foundation. Around the 1960s and onward, there also society also became more open to other religious backgrounds outside of Protestantism, allowing more people to explore Buddhism. People also became more interested in spiritual and experiential religion rather than the traditional institutional religions of the time.[1]

Women in American Buddhism[edit]

The mass conversion of the 60s and 70s was also occurring alongside the second-wave feminist movement. While many of the women who became Buddhists at this time were drawn to its “gender neutral” teachings, in reality Buddhism is a traditionally patriarchal religion.[4] These two conflicting ideas caused “uneasiness” with American Buddhist women.[4] This uneasiness was further justified after 1983, in which many male Buddhist teachers were exposed as “sexual adventurers and abusers of power.”[5] This spurred much action among women in the American Buddhist community. After much dialogue within the community, including a series of conferences entitled “The Feminine in Buddhism,” Sandy Boucher, a feminist-Buddhist teacher, interviewed over one hundred Buddhist women.[4] She determined from their experiences and her own that American Buddhism has “the possibility for the creation of a religion fully inclusive of women’s realities, in which women hold both institutional and spiritual leadership.”[5]

In recent years, there is a strong presence of women in American Buddhism, and many women are even in leadership roles.[6] This also may be due to the fact that American Buddhism tends to stress democratization over the traditional hierarchical structure of Buddhism in Asia.[3] One study of Theravada Buddhist centers in the U.S., however, found that although men and women thought that Buddhist teachings were gender-blind, there were still distinct gender roles in the organization, including more male guest teachers and more women volunteering as cooks and cleaners.[6]


  1. ^ a b c Hughes, Richard (2012). Buddhism in America. Columbia University Press. 
  2. ^ a b ""How American Women Are Changing Buddhism" By Rita M. Gross | The Buddha | PBS". Retrieved 2016-02-22. 
  3. ^ a b PBS. "Comments on Tensions in American Buddhism". 
  4. ^ a b c Dugan, Kate (2007). "Buddhist Women and Interfaith Work in the United States". Buddhist-Christian Studies. 
  5. ^ a b Boucher, Sandy (1993). Turning the Wheel: American Women Creating the New Buddhism. Beacon Press. 
  6. ^ a b Cadge, Wendy (2004). "Gendered Religious Organizations: The Case of Theravada Buddhism in America". Gender and Society. 
  • Lewis, James R. The Encyclopedia of Cults, Sects, and New Religions. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1998. ISBN 1-57392-222-6.