Buddhism in America

by Ryuei Michael McCormick

This article is based on a talk I gave on March 26, 2002 to the assembled priests of the Nichiren Buddhist International Center who had gathered for an NBIC meeting and for the Opening Ceremony of the Hayward Center which was on March 27.

Taking into account the nature of the country is the fourth of the five guides of propagation according to Nichiren Shonin. This means that one must consider the culture and values of the country in which one is going to teach, and above all one must consider to what extent Buddhism has or has not already become a part of the country. The "Teaching, Capacity, Time and Country" states, "there are countries wholly devoted to Hinayana teachings, countries wholly devoted to Mahayana teachings, and countries in which both Hinayana and Mahayana are pursued." (P. 50) One must also consider what kind of Buddhism has appeared in the country and in what manner it has been taught. This involves the proper order of teaching the Dharma which is the fifth of the five guides. Regarding the importance of understanding how Buddhism has already been taught in any given country, "Teaching, Capacity, Time, and Country" says, "Therefore, one must first learn what kind of Buddhist doctrines have already spread in a particular country before attempting to propagate Buddhism there." (P. 50)

In the case of the United States of America, these guidelines can not be applied easily because the U.S.A. is such a large country that there are different regions which must be taken into account. The population of the country is also extremely diverse and can be divided by race, ethnicity, religion, and socioeconomic class. While Buddhism makes up an extremely small religious minority (only .5% according to the American Religious Identification Survey) in the United States, it too is divided along lines of national origin, ethnicity, education, class, and even by sectarian affiliation within Buddhism. This means that there is no one monolithic national culture or identity in the United States but rather a diversity of cultures. There is also no one form of Buddhism in the United States, but rather a plurality of different forms of Buddhism which have only recently begun to interact, but for the most part they keep to themselves. This makes applying Nichiren's guidelines to the U.S.A. extremely problematic.

To begin with, the United States is an overwhelmingly Christian country. In addition, for a first world democracy it is also a very church-going country. Judeo-Christian values are very much a part of the mainstream culture, even when they are observed more in the breach than in the observance. It must be kept in mind, however, that this Judeo-Christian culture is not monolithic either. There are Roman Catholics, Orthodox Christians of a variety of nationalities, Protestants of many denominations, Mormons, different forms of Judaism, and an emergent Muslim population; and cutting across denominational lines there are liberals, conservatives, fundamentalists, evangelicals, pentacostals, and many other subgroups which often but do not always overlap. It would be very hazardous to make too many generalizations based on this bewildering variety. However, a few general observations can be made. The Biblical religions do uphold the ideals of love, compassion, and divine mercy balanced by a call for justice and righteousness. The Biblical religions have a system of morals and ethics which have formed the basis of law and culture in the Western world. Finally, the Biblical religions have a worldview that encompasses not only the present life, but also the afterlife and in fact the ultimate conclusion of the world drama and it's fulfillment in a new creation. While Buddhism has encountered various forms of indigenous earth-based religions like Shinto or Bon, or mystical philosophies like Taoism, or humanistic religions like Confucianism, it has never before encountered anything like the Biblical religions since the days when Buddhism competed with the "divinely revealed" religion of the Vedas. Even then, the Vedic religion of ancient India was not anywhere near as exclusive or apocalyptic as Judeo-Christianity or Islam. Looking back, it might be said that Buddhism in Asia was able to meet certain needs that were not being met by the other religions which it encountered. One might even say that the balance eventually struck in China between Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism or in Japan between Buddhism, Confucianism, and Shinto were possible because the average person did not see those religions as self-sufficient, and instead viewed them as complementary. The Judeo-Christian-Islamic religions, however, do believe that they are self-sufficient in matters of faith and morals, and that their worldviews are not only complete in terms of explaining and giving meaning to this life but also in articulating what people have to hope (or fear) in the afterlife. The average adherent of Biblical religions do not believe that Buddhism can fulfill any unmet needs, do not believe that it would be complementary, and do not believe it's worldview is compatible with theirs. So the balance struck between Buddhism and other Asian religions can not so easily be struck here, and the existential needs which Buddhism was able to meet in Asia that other Asian religions could not meet are answered by different sources within Western culture - currently either from within the Biblical religions themselves or by Western philosophy and psychology. This makes propagating Buddhism in the United States much more difficult and challenging.

This is one of the reasons why Buddhism has been in the United States for so long, and yet not until the last few decades has it begun to spread outside the small ethnic enclaves within which it had confined itself. The first Buddhist temple was built in San Francisco in 1853 by Chinese Buddhists living and working in America. It would not be until the late 1960's, however, when non-Chinese Americans would begin to get involved in Chinese Buddhist temples. The first Jodo Shinshu temple was started in San Francisco in 1899, but even today the Jodo Shinshu Buddhist Churches of America is still predominantly a Japanese-American institution. Mainstream America first became aware of Buddhism during the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893 when the Sri Lankan layman Anagarika Dharmapala, Rinzai priest Shaku Soyen, and other Buddhist representatives presented the Buddha Dharma there. Shaku Soen's disciple D. T. Suzuki would eventually become a prominent spokesman of Zen to the American intelligentsia, most notably the Beat poets, but it would not be until the 1960's that significant numbers of Americans would actually take up the practice of Zen. Henry David Thoreau (or Elizabeth Palmer Peabody according to some) translated the "Parable of the Herbs" chapter of the Lotus Sutra for an 1844 edition of Ralph Waldo Emerson's magazine The Dial; but it would not be until the 1960's when non-Japanese-Americans would take up the practice of Daimoku chanting due to the missionary efforts of Soka Gakkai members.

In one form or another, Buddhism has been a part of the American landscape since the mid-19th century. The watershed period of American Buddhism however was the 1960's. There were two reasons for this. The 1965 changes to the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 opened the doors to Asian immigration. This enabled a new wave of Asian Buddhists as well as Asian Buddhist clergy and teachers to come into the U.S. The second reason was the counterculture movement and especially the hippie sub-culture which it gave rise to. The youth counterculture was actively seeking alternatives to what they saw as a hypocritical and repressive Judeo-Christian heritage and the conformist and materialistic consumer society. Asian spiritualities like Hinduism and Buddhism seemed to promise a fresh and more authentic alternative. In addition, widespread experimentation with drugs like LSD inspired many to seek out Asian meditative practices in order to find a more organic and stable way of achieving and sustaining the kinds of mystical states they believed they had glimpsed by taking psychadelic drugs. This large group of youthful seekers and the greater access to Buddhism provided by new levels of Asian immigration combined to produce a boom in American Buddhism during the 60's and 70's. It was during this period that most of the American practice and meditation centers were established, in addition to the many new temples build by and for the growing numbers of Asian Buddhists immigrating to the U.S.

Now it is the dawn of the 21st century, and estimates of the number of Buddhists in America ranges from just over one million to as high as four million; well over a thousand Buddhists temples and practice centers have been established; and most bookstores have large sections devoted to Buddhism. As Buddhism has become more established on the American scene, three distinct groups have been identified by Jan Nattier, teacher of Buddhist studies at Indiana University. The first group are the "Elite Buddhists" who are comprised of those Americans who have actively sought out Buddhism. The second group are the "Evangelical Buddhists" who are comprised of groups from Asia who actively seek out converts from the general population. Finally, there are the "Ethnic Buddhists" who practice Buddhism because it is a part of their ethnic heritage. While no model is perfect, I believe that Jan Nattier's threefold typology is a useful tool for understanding the diversity and complexity of Buddhism in America.

The Ethnic Buddhists consist of an estimated 2.2 - 3.2 million immigrants from Asian countries who have established Buddhists temples (or churches) to meet the social, cultural and religious needs of their many diverse communities. This group includes the older Chinese and Japanese communities which go back to the 19th century, and the new waves of immigration from Korea, Vietnam, other Buddhist countries in SE Asia, as well as fresh waves of immigrants from China. This group includes both professional and working class immigrants, those who are barely literate and those who hold advanced degrees. The old-guard ethnic Buddhists, like the Buddhist Churches of America (Jodo Shinshu), have become more like Christian churches in many ways. The use of the word "church" is not the only change. Hymns, sermons, and English language services have all become standard in the BCA in order to accommodate the third and fourth generation Japanese-American members. Temples established by the Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, and other Asian immigrants tend to be more traditional, and few have English services. The practice of these temples also tend to be devotional in nature. Among East Asian Buddhists from Japan, China, Korea, and Vietnam, the practice of Pure Land Buddhism is ubiquitous. Amitabha Buddha and Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva are particularly revered as saviors and the recitation of their names, the Pure Land Sutras, and the "Observer of the Cries of the World" chapter of the Lotus Sutra are common. Some of the more highly educated and dedicated practitioners, both lay and monastic, may also practice Zen meditation. Some may also study Hua-yen or T'ien-t'ai teachings. The major exceptions to this would be those from Theravadin countries who do not engage in Mahayana practices, the exclusively Pure Land BCA, and the comparatively tiny groups of Asian-Americans who are members of the traditional schools of Nichiren Buddhism. For the most part, these ethnic temples and churches exist for the sake of their client communities and do not attempt to reach out to the larger American population. They also tend to keep to their own communities and do not interact with each other or with the Evangelical or Elite Buddhists.

In the case of the Japanese temples and churches, the experience of being interned during WWII has made them especially wary of reaching out to the larger population. There are exceptions to this, but even in those temples or churches which do attract members from outside their own group there is often a tension between the needs of the core ethnic membership and the converts who often fit the profile of Elite Buddhists. The example of Shunryu Suzuki is instructive in this regard. Suzuki Roshi became the resident priest of the Soto Zen temple Sokoji in San Francisco in 1959. As the resident minister of Sokoji it was his primary responsibility to serve the needs of its Japanese-American members. Suzuki Roshi, however, had another purpose. It had been his longtime wish to teach Zen Buddhism to mainstream America, and so he opened the doors of the temple to non-Japanese Americans who wanted to actually practice Zen meditation and not just read about it. Suzuki Roshi's experiment led to the highly successful San Francisco Zen Center and its complex of related centers, the world-class vegetarian restaurant Greens, the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, Green Gulch Farm, and the classic book of American Zen, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, which has sold almost a million copies. In the process, however, Suzuki Roshi was forced to leave Sokoji Temple because the Japanese-American members did not want to share their temple with the "hippies and beatniks" that Suzuki Roshi was attracting. Today, the San Francisco Zen Center is at the hub of a thriving Zen community. Sokoji, however, barely has enough members left to make holding weekly services worthwhile. The older generation of Japanese-Americans has passed away, and the younger generations have either moved away, or have left Japanese Buddhism behind in their assimilation to the mainstream culture. While the new immigrant Buddhist communities have not had to face this problem, the story of San Francisco Zen Center and Sokoji highlight the problems which all the Ethnic Buddhists will someday have to face. Either they must find a way to reconcile the needs of their founding members with the needs of the mainstream culture, or they will eventually face their own extinction as the older generation passes away and the younger generations assimilate. To survive, the Ethnic Buddhist temples and churches must either rely on fresh waves of immigration, which is what sustains many of the Chinese temples, or they must reach out to the mainstream community. But the transition is difficult, and it is not easy to reconcile the ethnic Buddhism of faith, devotion, and traditional culture with the contemplative and often highly intellectual Buddhism which new converts are most likely to be searching for.

The Evangelical Buddhists are those groups who have come from Asia and actively sought to convert Americans of all ethnic, sociological, and educational backgrounds. The primary and most successful example of this group is the Soka Gakkai. Though the Soka Gakkai estimates its membership in the US as 300,000, Phillip Hammond and David Machacek from the University of California at Santa Barbara estimated their membership at closer to 35,000 in the late 90's. Even this more realistic estimate makes the Soka Gakkai the largest, most widespread, and most successful single Buddhist organization in the United States. Furthermore, it is also the Buddhist group with the most diverse membership. Unlike the Ethnic (who are Asian immigrants) or Elite Buddhists (who are almost all Euro-Americans), the Soka Gakkai has a membership that is much more reflective of American diversity. According to Hammond and Machacek: "The current membership reflects an impressive level of racial diversity. SGI-USA members are more diverse, in fact, than the American population according to the 1990 Census." (Hammond & Machecek, p. 43) According to their survey, SGI-USA's membership is 42% white, 15% black, 23% Asian, Pacific Islander, 6% Latino, and 15% mixed race. This is compared to the general population of the USA according to the 1990 Census which is 78% white, 12% black, 1% Asian, Pacific Islander, 9% Latino, and only .1% mixed. (Ibid, p. 44) In other ways, the membership of the Soka Gakkai in the US is more like the Elite Buddhists in that most of them are in the middle or upper-middle class and their levels of education tend to be higher than that of the general population in the US. Also, like the Elite Buddhists, the membership of the Soka Gakkai is largely composed of the so-called Baby Boomer generation. The Baby Boomers were the products of the prosperous years following WWII, and as a generation had more educational and career opportunities open to them than in any previous generation. They were also the generation that had to confront the struggle for Civil Rights and the Vietnam War, and they were the generation which gave rise to the counterculture of the 60's and 70's that first began to explore the consciousness expanding possibilities of psychadelic drugs and Eastern mysticism.

The Soka Gakkai however is very different from the Elite Buddhists who we will cover next. Unlike the Elite Buddhists, the main practice and in fact only directly religious practice of the Soka Gakkai is chanting. Like all Nichiren Buddhists, the Soka Gakkai chant the Odaimoku as their main practice and the Hoben and Juryo chapters of the Lotus Sutra as their supporting practice. 62% of them chant twice a day in performing morning and evening gongyo, and almost all of them chant at least once a day. Members of the Soka Gakkai do not practice meditation at all, or at least they do not as part of their practice of Nichiren Buddhism. Furthermore, they often chant for material goals. "In Soka Gakkai, chanting for specific, conspicuous benefits is not perceived as contradictory to the ostensible goal of personal enlightenment or improving one's karma. Instead, one's external, material circumstances are viewed as an effect of one's inner, spiritual condition. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that when asked about the goals and benefits of chanting, conspicuous benefits, such as acquiring a new home, a car, success in one's career, or good health, are mentioned frequently. In fact, Soka Gakkai members are encouraged to think of such benefits as "proof" that the practice works - proof that not only serves to encourage continued practice but also to encourage others to try chanting." (Ibid, p. 68) Hammond and Machecek go on to say, "Note that such inconspicuous goals as spiritual enlightenment, better karma, and world peace make only a minor appearance as goals for which members chant...Respondents were nearly five times more likely to mention spiritual enlightenment and faith as results they had experienced than they were to say that they had chanted for these goals." (Ibid, pp. 70-71) These two factors, chanting rather than meditation as the primary practice, and the focus on material goals rather than spiritual enlightenment, make the members of Soka Gakkai radically different from the Elite Buddhists who practice meditation as their primary or only practice and whose goals are either spiritual or therapeutic and almost never material in orientation.

The Elite Buddhists form the third and most visible group of Buddhists in the USA. By one estimate, their numbers in the mid-90's were 800,000 but they could easily be more than a million now that the 21st century has dawned. These are the middle class, upper-middle class, and celebrity patrons of Zen Buddhism, Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism, and the Theravadin derived Vipassana meditation practices. Books for, by and about Elite Buddhism make up the thousands of titles which line Buddhist sections of major American bookstores. Despite the greater numbers and longer history of the Ethnic Buddhists, and despite the success of the Soka Gakkai, it is the Elite Buddhists who receive the attention of the media, the publishing houses, and the patronage and endorsement of Hollywood and American Academia. So who are these Elite Buddhists? For his book, The New Buddhism: The Western Transformation of an Ancient Tradition, James William Coleman conducted a survey of members of several Zen, Tibetan, Vipassana, and non-denominational Buddhist groups and came up with the following profile: "Far from the broadly based mass movement that most of its founders would probably have preferred, the new Buddhism has its strongest appeal to a relatively small slice of the public, but it is nonetheless a slice that is likely to wield a disproportionate influence on the evolution of Western culture in the years ahead. Ethnically, the members of these Buddhist groups are overwhelmingly white - a matter that has been of considerable concern to Buddhist leaders. Members also tend to be from middle and especially the upper-middle class. But while their income is significantly higher than the national average, the educational level of American Buddhists is right off the charts, and it appears that these Buddhists may well be the most highly educated religious group in the West today. Just as Buddhists are far more highly educated than the average Westerner, they are far more liberal and far more likely to support environmental, antiwar, and human rights causes." (Coleman, p. 20) The high percentage of advanced education among the Elite Buddhists in comparison with the Evangelical Buddhists or the general population is especially dramatic. According to the Hammond and Machecek survey, in 1997, 17% of Soka Gakkai members in the US had advanced degrees in comparison with 9% of the general population according to the General Social Survey of 1996. (Hammonds & Machecek, p. 53) According to James William Coleman's survey of American Buddhists in the Zen, Tibetan, and Vipassana traditions conducted during the mid-90's, 51% had advanced degrees. (Coleman, p. 193) This huge statistical gap is very significant, and shows why there is such a huge difference between the views and needs of the Elite Buddhist community and those belonging to the other two groups, not to mention a huge gulf between the views of the Elite Buddhists and the general population of the United States.

The Elite Buddhists who are attracted to Zen meditation, Tibetan Vajrayana practice, and Vipassana practice are not looking for a simple religion of faith and devotion, nor are they looking for material success, or a new social circle. Most of them are trying to get away from religions based on faith and devotion such as Christianity or Judaism. Many are disillusioned with the consumer culture and the drive for material success and are looking for a more spiritual way of life. Finally, the Elite Buddhists are already part of either the mainstream culture or the counterculture, and Buddhism is not something that many of their friends or family or involved in. So for the Elite, Buddhism is something they often look for out of personal rather than social interest. Here is Coleman's report on why Elite Buddists seek out Buddhism: "I asked my respondents, who were located through their attendance at Buddhist groups, to state their level of agreement or disagreement with three relevant statements: ‘I became interested in Buddhism because of a desire for spiritual fulfillment'; ‘I became interested in Buddhism in order to help me deal with personal problems'; and ‘I became interested in Buddhism because I was attracted by the people I met who were involved with it.' Well over half the respondents strongly agreed with the first statement and 22 percent with the second, but less than 12 percent strongly agreed with the third." (p. 198) Coleman also reports: "When I asked my respondents, ‘How did you first become involved in Buddhism?' only 25 percent said it was because of their friends, while 47 percent said it was from books, lectures, or classes." (Ibid, p. 199) So unlike the Ethnic Buddhists, the Elite Buddhists are not looking to fulfill social or cultural needs nor are they brought in through personal connections which is often the case with the Evangelical Buddhists. And unlike the other two groups, the primary draw of Buddhism for the Elite Buddhists is the promise of spiritual enlightenment. In fact, the Elite Buddhists often betray a condescending or dismissive attitude towards the other two groups because their motivation for identifying themselves as Buddhists are not as pure and spiritual as the Elite Buddhists imagine their own motives are.

Another major difference between the Elite Buddhists and the Ethnic and Evangelical Buddhists is in the realm of practice. Whether it is shikantaza, or koans, or Vajrayana visualization practices, or mindfulness of the breath, Elite Buddhists almost exclusively practice some form of silent sitting meditation. In his book Luminous Passage: The Practice and Study of Buddhism in America, Charles Prebish sums up the situation as follows: "There is no disagreement among researchers that Asian immigrant Buddhist communities and American convert communities engage in significantly different expressions of Buddhist practice. The general consensus is that American converts gravitate toward the various meditation traditions of Japanese or Korean Zen, Vajrayana, and vipassana, while Asian immigrants maintain practices coincident with ritual activity or Pure Land observance, depending on the nature of the parent tradition of their community, and usually encompassing the Theravada, Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese Buddhist traditions. With the exception of those American converts who have taken up the practices of Soka Gakkai, there is an almost completely exclusive focus upon meditative practices. More than a few observers of the American Buddhist tradition have remarked that American converts treat Buddhism as if it were a ‘onefold path,' focusing on meditation and little, if anything, else. In a very real sense, meditation continues to be seen in America as an all-pervasive activity, offering a complete spectrum of solutions to life's ills - from getting high without the risk of drugs to finding a way to cultivate peace." (Prebish, p. 63)

Now that we have roughly surveyed the major groups of Buddhists in America, we can ask where does the Nichiren Shu fit into this picture? For most of its history in the United States, the Nichiren Shu was definately what has been described as an Ethnic form of Buddhism with little or no appeal to the general population, nor were any efforts made to reach out beyond the Japanese-American community. Given the prejudice, racism, fear, and actual oppression directed at the Asian, and particularly Japanese, communities during most of the 20th century in the US, this reticence is understandable. Lingering bitterness and suspicion towards mainstream Euro or white Americans by older Japanese-Americans who were put in concentration camps by that same group during WWII has also created an atmosphere where converts to Nichiren Shu are not always welcomed, though there are exceptions to this. Unfortunately, as with the Buddhist Churches of America or Sokoji temple in San Francisco, the older generations of Japanese-Americans are passing on while the younger generations are moving away or leaving the temples behind as they assimilate, and no new waves of Japanese immigration are replacing their numbers. This leaves the Japanese temples that have not been able to attract the Elite or Evangelical types of Buddhism in a precarious position. Within the last decade the Nichiren Shu temples have begun to open their doors to those not of Japanese ancestry and real efforts have been made to reach out through publication efforts and open houses for the local communities held at Nichiren Shu temples. At the moment, however, most of those who join the Nichiren Shu are those who have left the Soka Gakkai due to their disillusionment with its authoritarian management style (in spite of Soka Gakkai's pro-democracy charter) and its continuing polemical and legal campaign against its former patron the Nichiren Shoshu (in spite of Soka Gakkai's official charter which promotes tolerance and freedom of religion). Nichiren Shu has still remained invisible to the mainstream population of the United States as it has no charismatic spokespeople or popular books on the market, as do the Zen, Tibetan, and Vipassana groups who have attracted the attention and admiration of mainstream America, and particularly the intelligentsia who are actually willing to seek out and practice Buddhism.

As the statistics indicate, aside from Asian-American immigrants, the vast majority of those who are open to practicing Buddhism are highly educated middle and upper-middle class religious seekers. Aside from those actively recruited by the Soka Gakkai during their "shakubuku" campaigns, these are the very people who are not attracted to the kind of faith-based, devotional religion represented by the Nichiren Shu. This group of religious seekers is looking for something more than just a once a week Sunday service religion based on ritual practice, for that is exactly the kind of religion that they rejected when they left the fold of mainstream Judeo-Christianity. Unfortunately, this is exactly the kind of religion that the Nichiren Shu in America has become in serving the needs of the Japanese-American community, which has long sought to better fit into the mainstream of American life. Instead, these seekers are looking for traditions with highly sophisticated ways of dealing with emotions and mental states, and for contemplative practices that do not require any metaphysical beliefs and which can help to bring about a direct experience of awakening or at least transformation in one's daily life.

This creates a kind of catch-22 situation for the Nichiren Shu in America. If it wishes to remain true to the teachings of Nichiren Shonin, then it must continue to emphasize exclusive faith in the Lotus Sutra and the practice of Odaimoku - even at the expense of alienating those Americans who are attracted to Buddhism. If, on the other hand, Nichiren Shu in America begins to emphasize meditation, the subtleties of the T'ien-t'ai philosophy of Chih-i and Miao-lo, and the more open and ecumenical interpretations of the One Vehicle and T'ien-t'ai Buddhism, then it will hold more appeal to those Americans who are willing to experiment with Buddhism but at the cost of reverting to a more T'ien-t'ai model of teaching and practice as opposed to Nichiren's more focused faith-based model. The contemplative and more ecumenical shoju form of Nichiren Buddhism emphasized by Nichiki Udana might provide a useful model, but even then the question has been raised as to what extent Nichiki Udana compromised the true intentions of Nichiren Shonin.

Another solution would be to switch to the Evangelical approach which the Soka Gakkai used so successfully during the 60's, 70's, and 80's. The problem there is that even the Soka Gakkai has ceased to aggressively promote itself though street-corner evangelizing and "shakubuku" campaigns. During the 60's and 70's this form of propagation was very effective because it was a time when many Americans were more willing to experiment and not as wary of religious cults as they are now. Now that the counterculture movement has ended, not so many are willing to go along with strangers to a Buddhist meeting. In addition, part of the appeal of the Soka Gakkai is its emphasis on chanting for material success and its centralized management which allows for greater control and coordination of its efforts (albeit at the expense of its egalitarian ideals and individual initiative). For better or for worse, it does not seem likely that the Nichiren Shu communities in America will adopt such an emphasis on chanting for material success or the authoritarian centralization of the Soka Gakkai.

All of this puts the Nichiren Shu in an awkward position in the United States. It's practice and organization is built on the Ethnic Buddhist model, but it's spiritual ideals are more in line with the Elite Buddhist community, and it's only appeal to those not of Japanese-American descent is primarily among the Evangelical Buddhists who are disillusioned by the authoritarianism and polemical posture of the Soka Gakkai. Nichiren Shu is thus neither fish nor fowl and so is continually overlooked by those who are the movers and shakers of American Buddhism (celebrities, book and magazine publishers, and academics) and by the majority of those who are seeking a Buddhist community to practice with. Beyond this, there is the problem of convincing Americans that the true practice of Buddhism involves chanting in Sino-Japanese, which sounds extremely ethnocentric. In order to find a solution, the Nichiren Shu in America will have to look to the other criteria of Nichiren's five guidelines, the teaching, the capacity, and the time, and reevaluate the way it will present and teach the Lotus Sutra and the Three Great Hidden Dharmas in the United States if it ever hopes to have a broader appeal and succeed in the mandate of the Lotus Sutra to accomplish "kosen rufu."


Chadwick, David. Crooked Cucumber: The Life and Zen Teachings of Shunryu Suzuki. New York: Broadway Books, 1999.

Coleman, James William. The New Buddhism: The Western Transformation of an Ancient Tradition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001

Hammond, Phillip and Machacek, David. Soka Gakkai in America: Accomodation and Conversion. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Prebish, Charles. Luminous Passage: The Practice and Study of Buddism in America. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999.

Prebish, Charles and Tanaka, Kenneth K. (eds.) The Faces of Buddhism in America. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.

Seager, Richard Hughes. Buddhism in America. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.

Sheler, Jeffery. "Faith in America." U.S. News & World Report, Volume 133, no. 15. (May 6, 2002): 40-49.

Copyright by Ryuei Michael McCormick. 2002.

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