Reporting on Buddhism

Buddha comes from the Sanskrit language, meaning “awakened.” Simply put, the basic teachings of Buddhism are: first, to do no harm to any living being; second, to do good; and third, to purify the mind from impurity. Buddhist religious practice is the formal discipline of sitting meditation and mindfulness in everyday life. Today .7 percent of Americans claim to be Buddhist, though the faith seems to be ever-growing. That growth is bringing awareness, influence and some contentious issues. 

The Golden Buddha, officially titled Phra Phuttha Maha Suwan Patimakon, is the world's biggest solid gold statue. It is located in the temple of Wat Traimit, Bangkok. By Chirag Gupta
The Golden Buddha, officially titled Phra Phuttha Maha Suwan Patimakon, is the world’s biggest solid gold statue. It is located in the temple of Wat Traimit, Bangkok. By Chirag Gupta

Background

Buddhism, now a worldwide religion with an estimated 480 million adherents, began about 2,500 years ago in Northern India, in an area now called Nepal, and has spread in a variety of forms and incarnations around the world. The type of Buddhism practiced varies from country to country, shaped by the culture of each place. While teachings and rituals differ by time and place, the concept of following the “dharma” — the Buddha’s fundamental teachings and doctrines — holds constant.

Journalists may encounter Buddhism in several ways — among immigrants, among American converts or among people who adopt Buddhist practices, such as meditation, without its beliefs. Though immigrant Buddhists outnumber Anglo converts, there is strikingly little overlap between the two groups, and Buddhism’s profile in America is largely due to its cultural influence.

One of the five largest religions of the world, Buddhism is based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, who lived in India in the fifth and sixth centuries B.C. He gave up a life of royalty to seek truth, eventually attained enlightenment (nirvana), and was proclaimed the Buddha, The Awakened One. Buddhists do not consider Gautama a god, but a great teacher, so some people call Buddhism a philosophy, not a religion. After reaching enlightenment, Gautama spent the remainder of his life traveling Northern India and sharing his message. Buddha taught personal enlightenment through the Four Noble Truths: Life includes suffering, which is caused by attachment and can be stopped by following the “middle way” or Eightfold Path (right view, intention, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness and concentration). He believed in karma (actions have consequences) and cycles of death and rebirth.

For summaries of basic Buddhist teachings, read:

  • Basic Buddhism Guide: Read the Basic Buddhism Guide posted by BuddhaNet, the website of the Buddha Dharma Education Association Inc., based in Australia. BuddhaNet is an effort to create a nonprofit, online “cyber sangha” of people committed to the Buddha’s teachings and lifestyle — an effort to combine an ancient tradition with the information superhighway.
  • Basics of Buddhism: An introduction to Buddhism posted in connection with a PBS documentary on Thailand.
  • Buddhism Religion Library: Read about the origins, history, rituals, worship, beliefs, ethics and community of Buddhism on the Patheos library. The library also includes more specific entries on Mahayana Buddhism, Theravada Buddhism and Vajrayana Buddhism. Patheos is a website intended for global dialogue about religion and spirituality through its library, online discussions, blog posts and more.
  • Resources for the Study of Buddhism: A list of resources for the study of Buddhism compiled by Ron Epstein, who is now retired as a professor from San Francisco State University. It includes links to background information on Buddhist history, teachings in the Theravada and Mahayana traditions, Buddhist texts and such subjects as Buddhism and children and Buddhism and science.

Branches & Groups

The Shwe Yan Pyay monastery school in Myanmar. By Nikolaeva Svetlana

The Buddha’s message spread north to China, Tibet, Mongolia, Siberia, Korea and Japan and south to Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries. European scholars brought Buddhism to Western Europe in the 1800s, and the religion was formally introduced in the United States in the 1890s.

Schools and sub-schools of Buddhism, emphasizing various aspects of the Buddha’s teachings, have developed over the centuries with little conflict.

Buddhism has several main branches:

Theravada Buddhism—The oldest form of Buddhism, Theravada Buddhism emphasizes the difference between monks’ authority and practice and lay people’s. The “Old School” conserves the traditions and emphasizes meditation and the goal of enlightenment. It is the predominate school of Buddhism in Southeast Asian countries such as Myanmar, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Laos and Thailand.  Those who attain enlightenment are equal to the Buddha, who is not regarded as a god.

Mahayana Buddhism—The second-oldest form of Buddhism (called “The Great Vehicle”), it offers gradations of Buddhahood—in bodhisattvas—to more people instead of concentrating authority among monks. It emphasizes compassion and the belief that all beings have the potential to become a Buddha. It is the predominate school in China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam.

Tibetan Buddhism—The Dalai Lama is the leader of Tibetan Buddhists, who were forced into exile in India when the Chinese occupied Tibet in 1959. Tibetan Buddhism is based on Mahayana teachings, and its followers still campaign to return to Tibet. 

Zen Buddhism—A combination of Mahayana Buddhism and Taoism, it has roots in China, moved into Korea and Japan and became popular in the West. Zen teaches that everyone is a Buddha, and each person can discover that through Zen practice.

Other subdivisions include: Korean Zen BuddhismNichiren Buddhism, and Pure Land Buddhism.

Example coverage

Findings shed light on when the Buddha (might have) died

By Traci Watson, Religion News Service
November 27, 2013

(RNS) – Scientists have uncovered the first physical evidence showing when the great religious leader known as the Buddha passed away, a date crucial to scholars and adherents of Buddhism.

Excavations in 2011 and 2012 at a site known as the Buddha’s birthplace imply he died – or, more accurately, experienced his “great passing away” – in the sixth century B.C., roughly 100 years earlier than the scholarly consensus.

The debate over the timing is not just academic: Buddhist countries such as Thailand use a dating system pegged to the year of the Buddha’s death, and some of his prophecies imply no one will achieve enlightenment a certain number of years after his passing.

“The find is very important,” said the University of Michigan’s Donald Lopez, who was not involved in this latest research but is the author of a new history of the Buddha. Whether or not it settles when the Buddha lived and died, “it does provide an important archaeological piece of the puzzle of when the Buddha lived, a puzzle that has vexed Buddhists for centuries.”

The research appears in the latest issue of the journal Antiquity and was partially funded by the National Geographic Society.

Though Jesus’ birth has been pinpointed to within a few years, scholars have argued for decades over not just the year but even the century of the Buddha’s life. According to Buddhist tradition, the baby who would become the Buddha was born as his mother, Queen Maya Devi, grasped a tree in a beautiful garden. Scholars have placed his birth at the Nepalese village of Lumbini at the foothills of the Himalayas, but opinions vary so widely about which century he lived in that “it’s mildly embarrassing,” Lopez said.

Some schools of Buddhism put his death at 544 B.C., but most historians conclude that he died between 420 and 380 B.C.

Digging at Lumbini, a team of archaeologists found that beneath the remains of a third-century B.C. brick shrine lay remnants of an older brick structure, and below that hints of an even older wooden structure. All three were built around a central open-air courtyard, never covered by a roof, where a tree had once grown. Perhaps, the archaeologists say, it was a temple built around a living tree. Such “tree shrines” are depicted in ancient Buddhist sculptures and still exist in Sri Lanka.

When the researchers analyzed the age of sand and bits of charcoal from the site, they found that the wooden shrine had been built in the sixth century B.C. Pilgrims began visiting sites important in the Buddha’s life right after his death, so the fact that a shrine rose at his birthplace in the sixth century B.C. lends support to the idea that he died in that century, too, said excavation leader Robin Coningham of Durham University in the United Kingdom.

Other scholars are either mildly or totally skeptical.

“Rubbish,” said Richard Gombrich, a historian emeritus of Buddhism at the University of Oxford. “There’s no evidence that what was there already was a Buddhist shrine. None!” He and Lopez both say it’s possible that the site could have been built as a religious center for one of the many cults of the day, then repurposed into a site of Buddhist veneration.

An archaeologist who has worked in Nepal said she’s concerned that the Lumbini team is drawing conclusions from a very cramped excavation site

“The only problem … is that the excavation was done in a very, very small area,” said Nancy Wilkie, a professor emeritus at Carleton College in Minnesota, noting that the finding of a wooden structure is based only on five holes where wooden posts once stood. “It’s a really small bit of evidence.”

Coningham responds that the footprints of the three stacked structures correspond so closely, it seems likely that the site had a similar purpose for its entire history. If one religious group had taken over the site from another, there should’ve been dramatic changes, he said.

When asked whether his team’s findings are likely to settle the Buddha’s dates, Coningham laughs. “There will always be questions,” he said. “And there always should be questions.” 

Core beliefs

Buddhism proclaims the dignity and worth of each living being, respect and compassion for all life and the need for all people to find their own path to enlightenment and to an understanding of the nature of life. Buddhism incorporates many different traditions, but some fundamental beliefs are shared across groups. 

Reincarnation, or the idea that the consciousness is reborn when one dies, is a central tenet encompassing the concept that life is cyclical, and most people will experience many cycles of life, death and rebirth. Reincarnation differs from rebirth in the eyes of many Buddhists, however, in that reincarnation represents the soul or spirit coming back to life in a newborn body. Rebirth, on the other hand, can take many different forms, and it is not assumed that the deceased will return to earth in the same entity.

After many cycles, a person who has released their attachment to desire and self can achieve nirvana, a state of ultimate peace that is the goal of all beings. Nirvana represents freedom from suffering, desire and the cycle of rebirth.

The Four Noble Truths refer to the fundamental realizations that the historical Buddha came to in meditation and then taught to his followers: Life is suffering; the cause of suffering is craving; suffering can be eliminated by the extinguishing of craving; there is a way to achieve this goal (by following the eight principles of conduct known as the Eightfold Path).

The Eightfold Path refers to the eight practical steps taught by the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, to end craving and thus eliminate suffering. The steps are right understanding, right intent, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration. Together with the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path constitutes the foundation of Buddhist thought.

The Buddha’s Eightfold Path consists of:

Panna, wisdom:

  • Right understanding of the Four Noble Truths
  • Right intention; following the right path in life

Sila, virtue, morality, ethical conduct:

  • Right speech; no criticism, lying or harsh language
  • Right conduct by following the Five Precepts
  • Right livelihood; supporting yourself without harming others

Samadhi, concentration, meditation:

  • Right effort towards privileging good thoughts over evil thoughts
  • Right mindfulness and being aware of your body and mind
  • Right concentration and meditation.

The Five Precepts mentioned in the Eightfold Path are a series of training rules to be followed by Buddhists. If one breaks a rule, he or she must learn from it and move forward with a better understanding of how not to break the rules in the future. These precepts guide ethical and moral behavior.

The Five Precepts:

1. To undertake the training to avoid taking the life of beings.

2. To undertake the training to avoid taking things not given.

3. To undertake the training to avoid sensual misconduct

4. To undertake the training to refrain from false speech.

5. To undertake the training to abstain from substances which cause intoxication and heedlessness.

Example coverage

Ex-cons, homeless seek enlightenment through art

By Tim Townsend, Religion News Service
March 7, 2012

ST. LOUIS (RNS) – The Buddha said, “I teach one thing and one thing only: suffering and the end of suffering.”

The end of suffering is something that Keith Freeman — a former drug dealer, convict, alcoholic and crack addict — has been after for decades.

And after taking part in an intense, five-month program at the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts that connected former prisoners and homeless veterans with ancient Buddhist artwork, Freeman thinks he may have taken a step closer to enlightenment.

The group is hosting 15 performances in the Pulitzer’s galleries featuring rookie actors speaking scripts culled from their own group sessions as they wrestled with Buddhist truths and their own demons.

Growing up, Freeman’s father was absent and his mother was often sick, so he raised his four younger brothers and sisters. But by the time he was 15, he had quit school, fallen in with the wrong crowd and was stealing from freight trains. By 17, he was locked up in the state penitentiary for a year. Before he was 30, he returned to prison, this time for selling drugs.

Freeman spent the next two decades in what he now can identify as a state of trishna, or craving for sense pleasures. Trishna is one of Buddhism’s Noble Truths, and the source of all suffering, the source of self-annihilation.

“It was a battle between living and wanting,” Freeman said. “I fought that battle for a long time.”

Last year, he entered an outpatient drug program at the St. Patrick Center, a homeless service center in St. Louis. Last fall, caseworkers chose Freeman and 16 others who had auditioned for the Pulitzer’s “Staging Reflections of the Buddha” program.

The original pool of actors was chosen for their willingness to open themselves up to something new, and to experience the vulnerability that comes with acting, said Emily Piro, who coordinated the “Staging” project for St. Patrick.

Emily Pulitzer, founder and director of the Pulitzer Foundation, said the project was conceived to “build bridges between audiences and art, and between parts of the community.”

The goal, she said, was to teach the participants “how to articulate ideas, and how to trust.”

Most of the participants are clients of the St. Patrick Center, but a few are veterans of St. Louis-based Prison Performing Arts. Another nonprofit group helps the actors with resumes and other job skills.

The Pulitzer Foundation’s current exhibit, “Reflections of the Buddha” includes 22 Buddhist pieces from Afghanistan, China, India, Japan, Korea, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan and Tibet.

In the Pulitzer’s galleries and classrooms, the actors meditated and wrote haiku. A series of game-playing and improv exercises fostered teamwork and communication skills.

The improv sessions led to the scripts the actors are performing for the public, as staffers sat nearby, furiously typing the actors’ thoughts on laptops.

For many of the Christian and Muslim actors, the experience was their first exposure to 2,500-year-old Buddhist philosophies. Along the way, social workers tracked the sessions and met with the group separately to connect the dots between the art and the actors’ lives.

The notes created during the improv games were then woven into scripts, which were reviewed for accuracy and given to the actors to memorize.

During the performances, the actors and audience move from one piece of artwork to the next — a dynamic that Emily Pulitzer likens to a Passion play. As they lead an audience around the galleries, the actors will recite lines originally spoken by their colleagues in the improv sessions as they contemplated the pieces.

The performance “forces those who come … to see the art from someone else’s perspective,” said Kristina Van Dyke, director of the Pulitzer Foundation. It’s a “perspective they might not have heard before, and it forces them to see” former prisoners and homeless veterans in a different light.

Allen Wilson, 48, who lives in St. Louis and is a client at St. Patrick Center, said he wasn’t sure what to think of the program at first.

“But as I came to understand what it was about, I’ve learned a lot about myself, the character in myself,” Wilson said. “It gives you peace of mind when you can go to a different level and get a better awareness of yourself.”

Christopher Fan, an intern with the “Staging” program from Washington University and a practicing Buddhist, said the actors had soaked up difficult Buddhist ideas. “In 12 weeks, they’ve gained more insight than I have in my 21 years as a Zen Buddhist,” Fan said.

For Freeman, being exposed to Buddhism challenged him to worry less about the future. “It’s about knowing not to give power to your burdens,” he said. “When you do, it takes away from your soul.”

Instead, he said, he’s going to concentrate on his writing. He’s got three screenplays already planned out in his head, and the combination of Buddhist philosophy and acting had taught him something about how he’d like to conduct the rest of his life.

“Put on my game face, stay in character and look forward,” he said. “Backwards is not an option.”

Scripture

There are many Buddhist scriptures and texts, and no single text is preferred by all traditions of Buddhism. For the most part, scriptures are in Pali, Tibetan, Mongolian and Chinese, but some texts still exist in Sanskrit. Over time, efforts have been made to formulate a single text to encompass all the primary teachings in Buddhism, but this has not been universally successful.

The major texts include:

  • Tripitaka (Pali Canon): The Tripitaka (Pali Canon), which means “Three Baskets,” is the earliest collection of Buddha’s teachings and the only text revered by Theravada Buddhists. It includes the Vinaya Pitaka (“Basket of Discipline”), the Sutta Pitaka (“Basket of Discourses” ) and the Abhidhamma Pitaka (“Basket of Higher Teachings”). The Vinaya Pitaka deals with rules for Theravada monks and nuns and explains etiquette and conventions for the monastic community. The Sutta Pikata includes more than 10,000 discourses mostly delivered by the Buddha, although some are attributed to his disciples. The Abhidhamma Pitaka includes theoretical frameworks of philosophy, psychology, metaphysics and others.
  • Buddhist Sutras: The Sutras are held sacred by Mahayana Buddhists. They are a loose collection of texts designed to unify contradictions among the various teachings and thus very difficult to describe succinctly.
  • The Tibetan Book of the Dead: The Tibetan Book of the Dead, or Bardo Thodol, records the stages of death and rebirth. It is intended to guide one through the bardo, or the conscious interval between death and rebirth.
  • “A Glossary of Pali and Buddhist Terms”: AccessToInsight.org posts John Bullitt’s “A Glossary of Pali and Buddhist Terms.”
  • “Glossary of Buddhist Terms”: See a glossary of terms relevant to the Buddhist faith.

Example coverage

Nun’s devotional songs take the Buddha’s message beyond Nepal

By Vishal Arora and Anuradha Sharma, Religion News Service
Oct 9, 2013

NEW DELHI (RNS) – American guitarist Steve Tibbetts launched her career after the two recorded an album in 1997.

This year she was invited by Academy Award-winning Indian composer A.R. Rahman to sing “Zariya,” one of his compositions.

And at a recent San Francisco concert, American singer Bonnie Raitt told her she was one of her greatest fans.

For Ani Choying Drolma, nicknamed the “rock star nun,” singing and performing with top musicians is a way to take the essence of Buddha’s teachings to the world and help people in need.

“The Buddha said you have to be skillful according to the time, place and people,” said the practical 43-year-old nun.

In the past 16 years, Drolma has recorded 10 albums of sacred chants and devotional songs.

“Not only is she an amazing artist, but also an incredible human being,” said Farah Siraj, a Jordanian singer who collaborated with Drolma on “Zariya.”

Drolma sings and records from her base at the Nagi Gompa nunnery near Nepal’s capital city of Kathmandu.

“Music has always been an integral part of Buddhist religious practice, especially as meditation,” she said. “My music is only different in style and framework.”

Drolma said she is not motivated by awards or concerts. She wants to “make everyone get the meaning of Buddha’s teachings and spread the word of wisdom.”

Through her Nun’s Welfare Foundation, she works to raise money for the education of child nuns. Two years ago, another initiative, the Arogya Foundation, set up Nepal’s first laboratory for renal diagnostic tests.

Drolma joined the nunnery at age 13 to escape the beatings of an alcoholic father. Under the tutelage of her teacher and meditation master, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, she was initiated into the spiritual world of Buddhism. Her singing talent was honed through learning and practice.

“I admire Ani Choying’s singing, and can feel her music in my heart,” said Lhamo Dukpa, one of Bhutan’s most popular singers, who is releasing her fifth album this year.

Drolma speaks fluent English, listens to Western music (she especially likes Norah Jones and the late Whitney Houston) and drives a car.

She shrugs off criticism that she is not conforming to tradition.

“Criticism is very natural,” she said. “The world always finds a way to praise you and a way to blame you. This is how it is, how it has been and how it always will be.”

Celebrations

Buddhists believe that candle flames represent the light of Buddha’s teachings. By Udeyismail

Most Buddhist holidays are based on the lunar calendar and are celebrated at different times depending on country, ethnic background and tradition.

The Buddha’s birthday (and in some traditions, his enlightenment and death) is the focus of a festival in May called Wesak. There are also many holy days of celebration for the birthdays of Bodhisattvas in the Mahayana tradition.

In countries with Theravadin traditions, such as Thailand, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Laos, the Buddhist New Year is celebrated for three days in April. Areas with predominant Mahayana populations, such as China, Korea and Vietnam, start the new year at the first full moon in January. Tibetan Buddhists tend to celebrate in March.

Additional celebrations include Magha Puja Day, Dhamma Day, Observance Day, Kathina Ceremony, Festival of Floating Bowls, Elephant Festival, Festival of the Floating Tooth, Ancestor Day and many others.

Example coverage

Buddhist Bhutan fails on its own happiness index

By Vishal Arora, Religion News Service
March 6, 2012

THIMPHU, Bhutan (RNS) – In a country that prides itself on measuring quality of life in terms of “Gross National Happiness,” this small Buddhist kingdom in the Himalayas seems to have a problem: at least half its citizens aren’t happy, according to its own measurements.

While more than 90 percent of the 7,142 respondents said they were “happy” in a recent government survey, only 49 percent of people fit the official definition of total happiness by meeting at least six of the survey’s nine criteria.

Bhutan’s fourth king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, coined the phrase GNH in 1972 on the belief that people’s happiness did not depend on the nation’s economic wealth alone.

GNH indicators — as opposed to more traditional measures like a nation’s gross domestic product based on economic activity — recognize nine components of happiness: psychological well-being, ecology, health, education, culture, living standards, time use, community vitality and good governance.

Many of the GNH indicators find their roots in Buddhism. Psychological well-being, for example, includes measures of meditation, prayer, nonviolence, and reincarnation.

The country’s GNH secretary, Karma Tshiteem, said Buddhism is key to people’s happiness. About three-quarters of Bhutan’s roughly 700,000 people are Buddhists.

In the recent survey by the Center for Bhutan Studies, 51 percent of Bhutanese were found to be “not yet happy.”

“Most youth of my age are confused, they are living each day as it comes, having no idea about GNH, no idea about religion and customs that have been passed on,” said 24-year-old Princess Yiwang Pindarica, a cousin of Bhutan’s King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck. “I think they say they are happy because they do not dig deep when they say ‘yes.’”   

Tshiteem, who oversees the government’s GNH Commission, said the GNH index ensures that people’s well-being reflects “the strong spiritual character of our Bhutanese culture.”   

“It is well proven that happiness is largely a state of the mind,” he said. Thanks to the GNH philosophy, he added, Bhutan had conserved its environment, cultures and traditions despite more than half a century of modernization.   

Namgay Zam, an anchor from state-owned broadcaster Bhutan Broadcasting Service, said the government’s emphasis on happiness may get the landlocked nation only so far.

“Bhutanese generally are very content people, resigned to their fates due to their belief in karma,” she said. “They simply don’t ask for more.”

Notes on coverage

About visiting a temple

  • Casual dress is acceptable at most temples. Modest dress is preferred. Some temples expect more formal attire, so it is best to check in advance with the temple you are visiting.
  • Oftentimes you may be asked to remove your shoes.
  • It is customary to arrive early to service.
  • Guests should not leave during meditation, but participation is optional. Talking during service is also inappropriate.
  • Use of reporting equipment (i.e. camera, flash, video camera, tape recorder, etc.) should be approved by a priest or monk at the temple.
  • When addressing clergy, they may be called ReverendLama, or Roshi.
  • A priest, monk, or nun leads service. 
  • Statues and other representations of the Buddha are not idols for worship, but are instead symbols of enlightenment, representing the highest ideals of perfect wisdom and compassion. 

Example coverage

Sravasti Abbey a dream fulfilled for American Budddhist nuns

By Tracy Simmons, Religion News Service
May 7, 2012

NEWPORT, Wash. (RNS) There aren’t a lot of Buddhists in America — around 3 million or so, according to the Pluralism Project at Harvard University. There isn’t exactly an abundance of monasteries here either, let alone Buddhist clergy.

Yet just outside of this town of about 21,000 people, Sravasti Abbey sits as one of the only monastic communities in the West for Americans wishing to study the Buddha’s teachings. What’s even more unique is that the abbey now has five U.S.-born, fully ordained nuns, called bhikshunis.

With the five ordained nuns in place, official sanghakarmas (Sangha ceremonies) can be held at the abbey, including the twice-monthly private Posadha (ceremony of confession and restoration of precepts). To have the special rites, the abbey needed four bhikshunis. By this summer, the abbey expects to have six.

“When we first set up the abbey there were three residents, myself and two cats. Now we have two cats and 12 human residents, five of them bhikshunis,” said Venerable Thubten Chodron, the abbess of Sravasti Abbey. “I think this is a big thing because this isn’t a Buddhist country.”

Chodron founded the abbey in 2003, fulfilling her lifelong dream of creating a Tibetan Buddhist community in the U.S. She spent a decade as resident teacher at Dharma Friendship Foundation in Seattle, but had no monastic community to call her own. Originally from Los Angeles, Chodron became a bhikshuni in 1986. Like most Buddhist women, she had to travel to Taiwan to receive her ordination.

For full ordination, a quorum of 10 fully ordained monks and 10 fully ordained nuns must be present; the ordaining Sangha (Buddhist monastic community) must have at least 10 years experience as fully ordained monastics, according to Chinese tradition.

There aren’t enough fully ordained monastics in the U.S. or Indonesia, but there are enough in Taiwan and Vietnam, Chodron explained. Full ordination was never established in Tibet because of the difficulty of traveling over mountain ranges from India.

“Our goal is, hopefully, that sometime in the future we’ll have enough monks and nuns at the abbey to give the ordination ourselves,” she said.

Venerable Thubten Jigme, 60, and Venerable Thubten Chonyi, 58, traveled together to Taiwan last October to partake in the Triple Platform Ceremony, or full ordination, where they took the sramanerika, bhikshuni, and bodhisattva vows. Both women gave up their careers and possessions to become first-generation, home-grown monastics.

They remain in touch with their families. Jigme dropped out of high school as a teenager, later earned her GED certificate and eventually earned nursing degrees. She’s worked at hospitals, clinics and classrooms; and before moving to the abbey she worked as a psychiatric nurse practitioner in Seattle. The two met at a retreat in 1998, and Jigme said she knew immediately that she had found her spiritual path.

“It has been a very organic journey,” Jigme said. “I grew up in a family that had little spiritual interest, and I really didn’t pursue spiritual practice but put my effort into my career. Over the years, however, I realized I had a spiritual longing and began a search.”

Almost eight years after she met Chodron, Jigme decided to attend a retreat at the abbey. There, Jigme said, she experienced the power of Buddha’s teachings and began to see a difference in her thoughts and actions.

“I realized I would need the support of like-minded people to develop these qualities,” she said.

She moved to the abbey in 2008 and took her novice vows in 2009. Saying goodbye to her friends, colleagues and patients wasn’t easy, but Jigme said the transition was good for her.

“Saying goodbye to them … was another peeling away of worldly involvement. Then, finally, the process of letting go of all the belongings I had accumulated for 56 years was another huge process. But the interesting thing was as I sold and gave away my belongings, I got happier and happier,” she said.

“Giving up my worldly identities left me feeling, ‘OK, now who am I and what is my role?’ I’m still defining this question as I try to embody the teachings of the Buddha and let go of the strong identity of I.”

Chonyi has been a student of Chodron for more than 15 years. She met her at the Dharma Friendship Foundation. At the time Chonyi was working as the co-owner of the Reiki Healing Arts Center. She supported Chodron and became a lay founder of the abbey. For several years, she toyed with the idea of becoming a monastic, and in 2007 she finally committed.

She and Jigme have been training for full ordination since they arrived at the abbey, but the final lessons took place in Taiwan. Chonyi explained that the intense training included everything from lessons on meditation and Buddhist history to classes on standing, sitting and eating properly. There are 348 precepts a bhikshuni must follow.

“When you have a calm body that’s focused and at ease, it has an influence on everybody around you,” she said.

Though exhausting and overwhelming at times, Chonyi said the training strengthened her faith and brought her closer to her fellow residents.

“I got a sense of what my responsibility is for helping to hold the value of the community,” she said. “I feel a very strong responsibility for establishing something that will be here, hopefully, for hundreds of years after us. We’re creating a space for the people behind us.”

Important and contentious issues

Buddhist teachings are rooted in peace, with scriptures that promote non-violence. Buddhism calls for respect of the lives of all beings and freedom from suffering, but conflict within Buddhist countries and groups have occurred. Typically, Buddhist conflicts are conflated with intolerant ethnic and nationalist identities. In recent years and in combination with political, social and cultural factors, Buddhism has primarily clashed with Islam, as well as Hinduism and Christianity, in Asian countries, namely Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand. In Southeast Asia, Muslims make up more than 42 percent of the population, or one-fourths of the world’s Muslims, while Buddhist are about 40 percent, or two-fifths of the world’s Buddhists.

Current cultural conflicts

  • In Myanmar, Buddhist nationalism has led to the complete separation of a previously coexistent population, with more than 150,000 internally displaced Muslim Rohingya people. The Rohingya are an ethnic minority who practice Islam, speak Rohingya and live in the Rakhine State in western Myanmar. Sparks of unrest in 2012 turned a tense relationship into violence. For more background information, read the BBC’s “Why is there communal violence in Myanmar?” article, and for more on Myanmar’s refugees, internally displaced and stateless people as a result of current tensions, view the United Nations Refugee Agency country profile of Myanmar.
  • In Sri Lanka, the emergence of the ethnic Sinhalese majority’s Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) organization, or the “Buddhist Power Force,” has led to anti-Muslim sentiments and attacks on the country’s minority Muslim population. Christianity also has been targeted. In 2009, the Sinhalese Buddhist nationalists ended a nearly 26-year civil war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a predominantly Hindu group.
  • In Thailand, the Buddhist-majority state’s political and cultural stigmatization of ethnic Malay Muslims has created long-standing violence. Once harmonious, Buddhist and Muslim relations in the region have become distrustful.
  • Muslim persecutions in other countries, such as Myanmar’s ethnic clashes with Rohingya Muslims, have fueled anti-Buddhist behavior in India, Indonesia and Bangladesh.

In the news

“Buddhism v Islam in Asia: Fears of a new religious strife” – July 27, 2014, The Economist

Fuelled by a dangerous brew of faith, ethnicity and politics, a tit-for-tat conflict is escalating between two of Asia’s biggest religions

BANGKOK, COLOMBO, JAKARTA and SITTWE – The total segregation of Buddhist Arakanese from Muslim Rohingyas is now a fact of life in the western Myanmar port-city of Sittwe. Until June last year both communities lived side by side in the capital of Rakhine state, but following several rounds of frenzied violence, the Buddhist majority emptied the city of its Muslim population. The Rohingya victims now scrape by in squalid refugee camps beyond the city boundaries. The best that most of them can hope for is to escape on an overloaded fishing boat to Malaysia. Many of them die trying.

The animosity between the Rohingya and the local Arakanese in this remote corner of Myanmar is a consequence of colonial and pre-colonial patterns of settlement. It is an old and very local affair, and there were hopes that it would stay that way. Not any more. The assault on the Rohingyas, which cost more than 100 lives and made over 100,000 homeless, sparked a wildfire of sectarian violence across the rest of Myanmar which now seems to be spreading to other parts of Asia, too. A tit-for-tat escalation is going on which, with reason, worries many in the region. – Read more.

“Buddha’s Savage Peace” – Sept. 1, 2009, The Atlantic, Robert D. Kaplan

After 26 years and 70,000 casualties, Sri Lanka’s civil war has ended—for now. The key to easing the fears of the country’s historically beleaguered Buddhist majority while protecting its Hindu minority? Rediscovering the blend of faiths that laid the foundation for the ancient kingdom of Kandy.

KANDY, Sri Lanka – Buddhism holds an exalted place in the half-informed Western mind. Whereas Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Hinduism are each associated, in addition to their thought, with a rich material culture and a defended territory, Buddhism, despite its great monuments and architectural tradition throughout the Far East, is somehow considered purer, more abstract, and almost dematerialized: the most peaceful, austere, and uncorrupted of faiths, even as it appeals to the deeply aesthetic among us. Hollywood stars seeking to find themselves—famously Richard Gere—become Buddhists, not, say, orthodox Jews.

Yet Buddhism, as Kandy demonstrates, is deeply materialistic and demands worship of solid objects, in a secure and sacred landscape that has required the protection of a military. There have been Buddhist military kingdoms—notably Kandy’s—just as there have been Christian and Islamic kingdoms of the sword. Buddhism can be, under the right circumstances, a blood-and-soil faith. – Read more.

“Facebook in Myanmar: Amplifying hate speech?” – June 14, 2014, Al Jazeera, Hereward Holland

Since violence erupted in 2012, Facebook users in Myanmar have fanned anti-Muslim sentiment.

YANGON, Myanmar – A nest of laptops in a shabby downtown apartment here acts as the modest, but passionate, command centre of Myanmar’s battle against hate speech.

White flowers stand in a glass bottle on a table surrounded by volunteers sitting cross-legged, lit up by their computer screens.

The group of young people work for Panzagar, a new civil society organisation dedicated to countering the tide of online vitriol with flower power or, more accurately, flower speech. – Read more.

“Football bridges religious divide in Thai south” – May 18, 2012, Agence France Presse

PATTANI, Thailand – Unmissable in their bright orange shirts, the players of local side Pattani FC exchange banter almost as fast as their passes around the training pitch.

It is a scene familiar to football clubs across the world.

But Pattani play in far from ordinary circumstances.

The Division Two team’s hometown is in the heart of an area riven by a raging insurgency that has claimed more than 5,000 lives since 2004 in near-daily bomb or gun attacks against both Buddhists and Muslims. – Read more.

“How an Extremist Buddhist Network Is Sowing Hatred Across Asia” – Aug. 8, 2014, Time, Charlie Campbell

Saffron-clad monks have been instrumental in anti-Muslim riots in Burma and Sri Lanka, and have their eyes on sowing discord farther afield

DHARGA TOWN, Sri Lanka – During her long career as a teacher, Nafeesathiek Thahira Sahabdeen prided herself on treating children of all backgrounds the same. That didn’t help her on June 15, though, when a radical Buddhist mob ransacked her home in Dharga Town, a thriving trading hub in southwest Sri Lanka. The 68-year-old Muslim was left “penniless, homeless and heartbroken,” she says. “I thought I would die. I was so afraid.”

The anti-Muslim violence that ravaged Dharga Town, along with the nearby tourist enclave of Aluthgama, peppered with five-star resorts, has been attributed to a burgeoning Buddhist supremacy movement that has embarked on an organized campaign of religious hate. – Read more.

“Myanmar lawmakers to debate law curbing religious conversions” – May 28, 2014, Reuters, Jared Ferrie

YANGON, Myanmar – Myanmar began a parliamentary session on Wednesday that will see lawmakers debate the first of four proposed laws that aim to protect the country’s majority Buddhist identity by regulating religious conversions and interfaith marriages.

The proposals come amidst rising sectarian tension in Myanmar, which has exploded in violent clashes between Buddhists and Muslims, killing at least 237 people and displacing more than 140,000 since June 2012.

The vast majority of victims were Muslims who make up only about 5 percent of Myanmar’s population of 60 million. – Read more.

“Number of Rohingya fleeing Myanmar tops 100,000” – Oct. 25, 2014, Associated Press, Robin McDowell

YANGON, Myanmar – A growing sense of desperation is fueling a mass exodus of Rohingya Muslims from western Myanmar, with the number who have fled by boat since communal violence broke out two years ago now topping 100,000, a leading expert said Saturday.

Chris Lewa, director of the nonprofit advocacy group Arakan Project, said there has been a huge surge since Oct. 15, with an average of 900 people per day piling into cargo ships parked off Rakhine state.

That’s nearly 10,000 in less than two weeks, she noted, one of the biggest spikes yet. – Read more.

“Special Report: Buddhist monks incite Muslim killings in Myanmar” – April 8, 2013, Reuters, Jason Szep

MEIKHTILA, Myanmar – The spark was simple enough.

Aye Aye Naing, a 45-year-old Buddhist woman, wanted to make an offering of food to local monks. But she needed money, she recalled, sitting in her home in Pyon Kout village. At about 9 a.m. on March 20, a day before the massacre, she brought a gold hair clip to town. She had it appraised at 140,000 kyat ($160). With her husband and sister, she entered New Waint Sein, a Muslim-owned gold shop, which offered her 108,000 kyat. She wanted at least 110,000. Shop workers studied the gold, but the clip came back damaged, she said.

The shop owner, a young woman in her 20s, now offered just 50,000. The stout mother of five protested, calling the owner unreasonable. The owner slapped her, witnesses said. Aye Aye Naing’s husband shouted and was pulled outside, held down and beaten by three of the store’s staff, according to the couple and two witnesses. – Read more.

International issues

  • Tibetan Buddhism and relations with China are major issues that should be carefully covered. The status of Tibet is at the heart of this contentious relationship. China states that Tibet is a part of China, while Tibetans maintain that Tibet has historically been an independent country. For background information, read a chronology of key events in Tibetan Buddhism and a Q&A on China-Tibet relations on the BBC website.
  • Communism and Buddhism are often portrayed as systems or ideologies at odds with one another. Journalists should be careful not to include their own opinion or favor a way of thinking.
  • Buddhism can be understood as a religion that has problems with fitting in with the modern world. For example, Buddhism is sometimes considered to be in opposition to material culture, military service/actions and industrialization.
  • Buddhist monuments have fallen victim to extremist attacks, such as the Taliban destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan statues in central Afghanistan in 2001.
  • Be cautious of reporting about Buddhist and Muslim community conflicts in Asia, which can be used as propaganda for more sectarian violence.

In the news

After Winding Odyssey, Tibetan Texts Find Home in China – Feb. 14, 2014, New York Times, Andrew Jacobs

CHENGDU, China – Decades ago, the thousands of Tibetan-language books now ensconced in a lavishly decorated library in southwest China might have ended up in a raging bonfire. During the tumultuous decade of the Cultural Revolution, which ended in 1976, Red Guard zealots destroyed anything deemed “feudal.” But an American scholar, galvanized in part by those rampages, embarked on a mission to collect and preserve the remnants of Tibetan culture.

The resulting trove of 12,000 works, many gathered from Tibetan refugees, recently ended a decades-long odyssey that brought them to a new library on the campus of the Southwest University for Nationalities here in Chengdu. – Read more.

Are there signs of a thaw between China and the exiled Dalai Lama on Tibet? – Oct. 2, 2014, Washington Post, Annie Gowen

DHARMSALA, India – The Dalai Lama said Thursday that informal talks with the Chinese are continuing over his possible return to his homeland of Tibet — if only for a visit — and cautiously praised Chinese President Xi Jinping as a realist.

The Dalai Lama, 79, sat down for an interview in his temple in the north Indian town of Dharmsala before a celebration of the 25th anniversary of his Nobel Peace Prize, after a month of media speculation of a thaw between the exiled leader and the Chinese government.

The two were communicating “not formally or seriously, but informally,” the religious leader said. “I express this is my desire, and some of my friends, they are also showing their genuine interest or concern.” – Read more.

Buddhism continues to flower in Mongolia – Sept. 11, 2010, Los Angeles Times, Nomi Morris

The practice, suppressed for decades by the Communist Party, is being reclaimed by Mongolians as an integral part of their national identity.

SHAND KHIID, Mongolia – In the crimson-painted interior of a monastery in central Mongolia, boys as young as 6 face one another cross-legged on benches and chant Tibetan Buddhist prayers that they barely understand.

Some fidget and get up every now and then to ladle bowls of fermented horse milk from a large metal vat. Their teachers occasionally call out directions.

The boys are at a three-month religious camp at the monastery, Shand Khiid. The oldest monk in residence is 97. A visiting sage from Tibet relaxes in a back room, watching sports on television. – Read more.

Buddhists in Pink – Sept. 19, 2013, New York Times, Chelsi Moy

YANGON, Myanmar – Enrollment is rising at the Aung Thawada Nunnery School on the northern border of Yangon. The nuns, whose ages range from 9 to 94, join for a variety of reasons, including to escape poverty or abuse. – Watch the multimedia video here.

China tells Dalai Lama again to respect reincarnation – Sept. 10, 2014, Reuters, Ben Blanchard

BEIJING – China repeated a call on the Dalai Lama on Wednesday to respect what it said was the historic practice of reincarnation, after the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader implied in a newspaper interview he may be the last to hold the position.

The Dalai Lama, in an interview with German newspaper Welt am Sonntag, said the tradition of the post could end with him, adding the Tibetan Buddhism was not dependent on a single person.

The Dalai Lama, 79, has stated previously that he will not be reborn in China if Tibet is not free and that no one, including China, has the right to choose his successor “for political ends”. China has previously warned the Dalai Lama he has no right to abandon the tradition of reincarnation. – Read more.

How Buddhism could be a way out of the environmental mess we are in – Sept. 2, 2010, The Guardian, Jo Confino

The Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh explains in his new book how a Buddhist approach could benefit ecology

LONDON – There is something extraordinarily child-like about the 84-year-old Zen Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh.

To portray him out of context could make him appear naive and unworldly. It is therefore understandable that he does not like to be interviewed by journalists who have not already spent some time in his presence and meditated with him. The Daily Mirror was interested in running a piece only if they could get a picture of him with a major celebrity, which is not particularly helpful since he believes fame is one of the key paths to suffering.

… In recent years, he has turned his full attention to the dangers of climate change and recently published the best-selling book The World We Have – A Buddhist Approach to Peace and Ecology. – Read more.

Tibetan monks tackle science in the Indian hills – July 3, 2014, Associated Press, Tim Sullivan

SARAH, India – The shouts of more than a dozen Tibetan monks echo through the small classroom. Fingers are pointed. Voices collide. When an important point is made, the men smack their hands together and stomp the floor, their robes billowing around them.

It’s the way Tibetan Buddhist scholars have traded ideas for centuries. Among them, the debate-as-shouting match is a discipline and a joy.

But this is something different.

Evolutionary theory is mentioned — loudly. One monk invokes Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. Another shouts about the subatomic nature of neutrinos. – Read more.

In Scarred Chinese Tibetan City, Devotion to Sanctity of Life –July 25, 2014, New York Times, Andrew Jacobs

YUSHU, China – With a set of chopsticks in her hands and a Tibetan prayer spilling from her lips, Gelazomo, a 32-year-old yak herder, hunched over the rocky banks of the river that cuts through this city and hunted for the quarry that she hoped would bring salvation.

Every few minutes, she would tease out a tiny river shrimp that had become stranded in the mud, and then dropping it into a bucket of water. Beside her, dozens of other Tibetans toiled in the noonday sun, among them small children and old people who, from afar, appeared to be panning for gold.

“Buddha has taught us that treating others with love and compassion is the right thing to do, no matter how tiny that life is,” she explained, as the newly revived crustaceans darted through the water of her bucket. – Read more.

Rebuild Afghanistan’s Giant Buddhas? Foot-Shaped Pillars Give Legs to Debate – Sept. 24, 2014, Wall Street Journal, Margherita Stancati

Taliban Destroyed Sandstone Figures in 2001, but Momentum Is Growing to Reassemble Them

BAMIYAN, Afghanistan – A pair of brick pillars, with an uncanny resemblance to feet, appeared late last year where a giant Buddha stood here.

The pillars were meant to hold a platform that would prevent rocks from falling on the heads of visitors to the Bamiyan site, where the Taliban destroyed two ancient Buddhas in 2001, horrifying the world.

The pillars’ construction had an important consequence: it sparked a global debate on whether the two sandstone Buddha statues, cut out of a mountain face dominating this central Afghan city, should rise again. – Read more.

The limits of despair – March 9, 2013, The Economist

Five years after an explosion of unrest on the Tibetan plateau, the region is again in crisis. This time the world is looking away

DHARAMSALA, India and QINGHAI PROVINCE, China – Inside a small monastery in China’s Qinghai province, a red-robed monk looks around to see if he is being watched, then begins sobbing. “We just want the Dalai Lama to come home”, he says. His words echo those of dozens of Tibetans seeking to explain why they have set themselves on fire in public places across the Tibetan plateau in the past two years. Desperation is growing among the Dalai Lama’s followers in China. So, too, is the government’s effort to silence them.

Since an outbreak of unrest swept the Tibetan plateau five years ago this month, including anti-Chinese riots in the Tibetan capital Lhasa and protests in numerous towns and monasteries, the party has tried to control Tibetan discontent by means of carrot and stick. The stick has involved tighter policing of monasteries, controls on visits to Lhasa, denunciations of the Dalai Lama and arrests of dissidents. The carrot is visible not far from the crying monk’s monastery: new expressways across the vast grasslands, new roads to remote villages, better housing for monks and restorations to their prayer-halls. Yet the spectacle of more than 100 Tibetans setting themselves alight, mostly in the past two years, in one of the largest such protests in modern political history, suggests that neither approach is working. – Read more.

U.S. Buddhism and cross cultural issues

  • U.S. Buddhism practice and practice in other countries are often different. For example, U.S. Buddhists are known to focus on meditation and karma or merit-based efforts. They are also known to be more pluralistic and democratic, putting less importance on authority, as prevalent in Asia. It is a mistake for journalists to generalize information to all Buddhists.
  • Asian Buddhists may feel like they are outside of the U.S. Buddhist dialogue or discourse. There is no central or primary leader in Buddhism, so unity or common understanding across cultures can be an issue.
  • Separation between Buddhists also occurs in Asian countries (i.e. Japanese versus Korean Buddhists). Race can be a source of division and understanding as well.

In the news

A Bridge Between Western Science and Eastern Faith – Oct. 11, 2013, New York Times, Kim Severson

ATLANTA – Quantum theory tells us that the world is a product of an infinite number of random events. Buddhism teaches us that nothing happens without a cause, trapping the universe in an unending karmic cycle.

Reconciling the two might seem as challenging as trying to explain the Higgs boson to a kindergarten class. But if someone has to do it, it might as well be the team of scholars, translators and six Tibetan monks clad in maroon robes who can be spied wandering among the magnolias at Emory University here.

They were joined this week by the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people, who decided seven years ago that it was time to merge the hard science of the laboratory with the soft science of the meditative mind. – Read more.

Buddhism forced to turn trendy to attract a new generation in Japan – Jan. 8, 2009, The Guardian, Justin McCurry

Priests visit bars to reach out to young sceptics amid dramatic decline

TOKYO – Dressed in dark cotton robes, a bracelet of prayer beads hanging from his wrist, Gugan Taguchi certainly looks the part. But as he kneels to chant a sutra before an altar in the corner of the room, the people around him continue to chat, and his rhythmic prayers can only just be heard above a Blue Note jazz track.

Minutes later Taguchi is back in his seat, glass in hand. A bottle of rum sits on the bar in front of him, next to a half-filled ashtray as his tobacco smoke mingles with the aroma of incense.

Some of his peers may disapprove of his methods, but amid a dramatic decline in interest in Buddhism among young Japanese, Taguchi is prepared to go almost anywhere to reach out to the sceptics, including to the Bozu [monks] bar in Tokyo. – Read more.

Buddhism In America: What Is The Future? –June 14, 2014, The Huffington Post, Jaweed Kaleem

GARRISON, N.Y. – Backed by the nation’s largest Buddhist magazines and meditation centers, a recent invite-only gathering at an old monastery in this riverside hamlet north of New York City included a guest list of crimson-robed monks of Buddhism’s Tibetan line, tattooed “Dharma Punx,” professors and Japanese-influenced Zen Buddhists that read as a “who’s who” of Buddhism in America.

But the “Maha Council” (maha means “great” in Sanskrit) has created buzz and sparked soul-searching among members of the growing Buddhist religion in the United States for different reasons.

… And in a society where traditional Buddhist concepts such as “mindfulness,” mental wellness and spiritual health are now a common part of corporate health programs, what role is left for Buddhism to play? – Read more.

Fighting Monks’ new master shares martial arts style with the world South Korean monk – Dec. 26, 2011, Los Angeles Times, John M. Glionna

South Korean monk Ando knows his own teacher would probably be furious, but he felt it was time to move the secrets of Sunmudo beyond the temple walls.

BUSAN, South Korea – Ando knows his own teacher would probably be furious, but he felt it was time to move the secrets of Sunmudo beyond the temple walls.

Buddhist monk Ando remembers the toil of all those years, trying to satisfy the training demands of an aging martial arts master who could never be pleased.

Silent and impassive, monk Yang-ik perched in the lotus position on a platform above his young proteges, who leaped from mats, kicking two impossibly high bags one after the other, the best adding aerial somersaults before landing gracefully, like big cats. – Read more.

South Korea’s Buddhists monks tackle modern challenges – June 26, 2012, BBC, Lucy Williamson

SEOUL – He calls himself the Accidental Monk.

Sitting in the study at Seoul’s main Jogyesa Temple, the Venerable Sung Jin wraps his wide grey tunic around him, as his round face cracks into a broad smile.

Twenty years ago, he tells me, he was a student activist in South Korea’s turbulent new democracy. Running from police one day after a demonstration, he took refuge in a temple, and began chatting to the Zen master there.

The rest, as they say, is history: Ven Sung Jin is now head of administration at the Jogyesa Temple.

But the question of why people become monks is a pertinent one in South Korea at the moment. – Read more.

This Harvard-Educated Monk Is Reintroducing Buddhism To The Western World – March 26, 2014, The Huffington Post, Carolyn Gregoire

Hwansan Sunim had a pretty typical suburban American childhood. Born to Korean-American parents in Westchester County, N.Y., he grew up in Irvington, an idyllic small town on the Hudson River.

Though Sunim strived to be a model student for his parents and get accepted to a good college, he said he always felt somehow different from his peers, and had the sense of living a “double life.” His childhood and adolescence were marked by existential and spiritual questions, and early on he decided that he was more interested in seeking answers to those questions than in achieving conventional success.

Sunim’s commitment to schoolwork paid off; he attended Harvard, where he majored in comparative religion and took courses in each of the major world traditions. But what he craved couldn’t be found in books. He zeroed in on Zen Buddhism, which appealed to him with its emphasis on the importance of direct experience over theory and doctrine. – Read more.

General issues

  • Buddhists do not have a single stance on abortion; Western and Japanese Buddhists may not take issue with abortion, while others may consider it to be unacceptable.
  • While Buddhism does not necessarily require family life as a religious requirement, Buddhists may view contraception use as against the teachings of Buddha.
  • There is not a single view on capital punishment, but Buddhists do not support physical punishment to other humans.

In the news

Why Japan Still Has the Death Penalty –Jan. 16, 2005, Washington Post, Charles Lane

There is a place in the advanced industrial world where people are regularly sentenced to death, and executed, for their crimes. Some of the condemned deny their guilt — and there are confirmed cases of mistakes in sentencing. But government officials say the system delivers retribution and deterrence fairly and efficiently.

This place is not Texas. It is Japan — the only industrial democracy other than our own that still regularly executes convicted murderers. In 2004, the Japanese conducted two executions by hanging, the sole method employed there. In some years, the rate is double or triple that. This is nowhere near the rate in the United States, where 59 convicted murderers were put to death in 2004. But there are many more murders in the United States than in Japan, and our population is 295 million people compared to Japan’s 127 million. When you adjust for those facts, Japan has recently been about as likely as Texas and Virginia to sentence killers to death. – Read more.

Abortion Reform is up against Buddhism in Thailand –Nov. 25, 2010, Andrew Chambers, The Guardian

The discovery of more than 2,000 foetuses stored at a Bangkok temple has made front-page news across Thailand. As most abortion is illegal in Thailand, the case has shone a spotlight on a massive backstreet industry and sparked national debate about the country’s current abortion laws, which date from the 1950s. With abortion routinely recognised as a “sin” in Theravada Buddhism, religion has played a significant social and political role in this debate.

The undertaker at Wat Phai Ngern is accused of accepting regular deliveries of foetuses in plastic bags from an intermediary, who was paid by clinics to dispose of them discreetly. Buddhist temples are often used to store bodies prior to cremation but, with the local crematorium out of order, complaints about the smell led to the discovery of the operation. The bags are thought to have comefrom up to 20 different locations, sparking a crackdown on 3,900 suspected illegal clinics nationwide. — Read more.

Example coverage

For Navy yard shooter, Buddhism was a temporary refuge

By Rick Jervis and Carolyn Pesce, Religion News Service
September 18, 2013

FORT WORTH, Texas (RNS) – What people here are wondering today is what in the world went wrong with Aaron Alexis?

The man who shot and killed 12 people had his problems. But friends who worked and lived beside Alexis say they don’t recognize the man who went on a shooting rampage Monday at a military complex in Washington, D.C., and eventually was shot dead in a gunfight.

Alexis’ life ended in Washington, where he lived in a Residence Inn in the southwest part of the city and worked as civilian contractor for the military. But much of his story is centered in Fort Worth, where he seemed to be an easygoing guy who practiced Buddhism, meditated for hours and hung out with friends who spoke Thai, as he did.

“He was a good guy to me,” said Nutpisit Suthamtewakul, who met Alexis three years ago at Wat Busayadhammavanaram, a Fort Worth Buddhist temple. The two became good friends.

By some accounts, Alexis led a somewhat reverent life during his early years in Fort Worth, working at the nearby Naval Air Station, meditating and studying Thai. Somsak Srisan, 57, a friend and landlord, met Alexis at the temple and became endeared to him. Alexis told Srisan he hoped to become a Buddhist monk someday. “Keep studying,” Srisan told him.

When Alexis needed a place to live, Srisan rented him the two-bedroom brick home he owned in a wooded lot behind the temple. Alexis lived there for about eight months, from 2010 to 2011. He paid the $600 monthly rent on time each month and adhered to Srisan’s strict rules of no drinking, no smoking, no partying, he said. Alexis also attended temple two to three times a week, meditating with other congregants for an hour at a time, Srisan said. Sometimes, he would flirt with the female congregants, he said.

“He was a good boy,” Srisan said.

But in early 2011, Alexis lost his job at the naval station. Unable to make rent, he moved out of the house behind the temple and came to meditation groups less frequently, Srisan said. Srisan told Alexis he was sorry to see him leave the job, which offered good benefits and a steady paycheck.

“He said he didn’t like the system,” Srisan said. “He said, ‘I don’t need to get too involved with that.’ ”

Alexis moved in with Suthamtewakul, who owns the Happy Bowl restaurant. Late-night drinking sessions ensued as the pair would go through one six-pack of Heineken after another, Suthamtewakul said.

They lived in White Settlement, a Fort Worth suburb about 11 miles west of downtown. Known as one of Texas’ most authentic cowboy cities, Fort Worth boasts historic stockyards, where cattle are still run down city streets twice daily. Dallas, Fort Worth’s larger sister city, lies about 30 miles east with more people, a bigger skyline — and more nightlife.

Sometimes after work, Suthamtewakul and Alexis would drive to Dallas for private parties at friends’ Thai restaurants.

“He wanted to speak Thai,” Suthamtewakul said. “He was very focused on practicing the Thai language.”

Alexis told Suthamtewakul how the military paid for him to attend nearby Tarrant County College. He liked studying computers. A Tarrant County College spokeswoman confirmed Alexis attended one semester at the college’s Northwest Campus, from January to May 2011.

But Alexis left the Navy because he didn’t like waking up early, Suthamtewakul said. The classes stopped, as well.

As Suthamtewakul moved four times over the next three years, Alexis moved with him, struggling to keep a job.

Alexis didn’t contribute to the rent but would come to Suthamtewakul’s restaurant and help with deliveries for free, including to some of Fort Worth’s roughest neighborhoods, Suthamtewakul said. Often, Alexis would have his .45-caliber pistol tucked in his belt.

Suthamtewakul had to advise him to hide the weapon sticking out of his belt so customers wouldn’t see it. Alexis would talk often about the need to protect himself and how to use guns. He occasionally practiced firing the weapon at a local firing range, Suthamtewakul said.

From the first days they met, Alexis would talk about people coming to get him.

“He always thought someone was trying to hurt him,” he said. “He was afraid of people.”

Alexis briefly had an Asian girlfriend in the Navy who stayed with them for a week about two years ago. He was, by all accounts, happy, Suthamtewakul said.

Suthamtewakul trusted and liked Alexis enough to ask him to be his best man at his wedding in December. In July, with Suthamtewakul’s new wife now living with the pair, Alexis moved out.

Kevin McDonald, owner of Kevin’s Hometown Furniture, next to the Happy Bowl restaurant, said he would often chat with Alexis outside the Happy Bowl. Alexis would be taking a cigarette break and McDonald would chastise him, telling him he should quit.

McDonald knew Alexis had been in the Navy Reserve and the two would talk politics and current events, ranging from the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi to the latest news out of the White House, he said. Alexis didn’t have heated opinions on any of the topics.

“Nothing out of the ordinary,” McDonald said. “I probably made more negative comments on President Obama than he did.”

Michael Ritrovato, 50, said he and Alexis became friends about four years ago at a Buddhism festival in nearby Keller, Texas. He would see him often at the Happy Bowl. Fellow New Yorkers, Ritrovato and Alexis talked about jobs and girls and got together at Ritrovato’s house to watch the New York Giants play in the Super Bowl.

“He loved to have fun,” Ritrovato said. “We would have a few beers together.”

But last year, Alexis’ fun-loving attitude soured, he said. After landing a job with a computer company that took him to Japan, Alexis called Ritrovato to complain that the company hadn’t paid him in weeks. Earlier this year, Alexis called again to say his car had broken down and he didn’t have enough money to fix it, Ritrovato said.

Ritrovato said he tried to get him a government job several times, but Alexis would foul up the application process. Four months ago, Alexis called again with more car and money problems.

Kasem Pundisto, head monk at the Wat Busayadhammavanaram temple, said he noticed a change in Alexis.

He was sociable and talked in Thai regularly with the other monks. But he also brooded at times.

Alexis was in good spirits when he lived in the house behind the temple and meditated regularly, Pundisto said. But his mood seemed to change after he moved out. He attended meditation less regularly.

About six months ago, Alexis asked Pundisto for a ride to the auto mechanic to pick up his car. On the drive over, Alexis confessed that he was not happy with his life and that he yearned to return to the monks.

“It looked like he had something heavy on his mind, like he was trying to keep it all in his head,” Pundisto said through a translator. “I told him, ‘Relax, come back to meditation.’ ”

Soon after, Alexis left town. 

International sources

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    DorjeShugden is a website providing a comprehensive background, history and lineage of Dorje Shugden and benefits of the practice. Dorje Shugden, a Tibetan Buddhist deity, has been publicly denounced by the Dalai Lama and is a source of controversy. Contact through the website.

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    Shambhala is a global community with more than 170 centers and groups worldwide. The Shambhala vision is rooted in the contemplative teachings of Buddhism. It is the Shambhala view that every human being has a fundamental nature of goodness, warmth and intelligence which can be cultivated through meditation, following ancient principles and further developed in daily life.

    Contact: 902-425-4275.
  • Shinnyo-en

    Shinnyo-en is an international Buddhist community that teaches laypeople how to use each day as an opportunity to connect with others and seek enlightenment. Currently led by Shinso Ito, Shinnyo Buddhists promote the values of peaceful coexistence and cooperation. Its website includes a list of sanctuary locations worldwide. 

  • SotoZen-Net

    SotoZen-Net is a website that offers in-depth information on the Soto Zen school, including a directory of organizations and temples within and outside Japan.

  • Zen Peacemakers

    Zen Peacemakers is a global community of individuals and Zen centers that want to pursue peace and wholeness through combining social action and Zen practice. The Zen Peacemakers operate the Maezumi Institute in Montague, Mass., and have a list of Zen Peacemaker Circles in the U.S. and overseas.

South America

  • Bodhi Path

    Bodhi Path is an online organization founded by Shamar Rinpoche that provides resources on Buddhism in Latin America. The website offers links to centers around Latin America, teachers of Buddhism, curriculums, philosophies and links to other Buddhist organizations. For more information contact one of the centers in your area.

  • Kadampa Meditation Center in Brazil

    The Kadampa Meditation Center in Brazil is a Kadampa Buddhist temple located in Brazil. The organization offers resources on modern Buddhism and teachers and centers located throughout the country.

  • Maitreya Foundation

    The Maitreya Foundation is a nonprofit organization that develops activities, projects and publications to promote Buddhism on an international scale.

  • Zu Lai Temple

    The Zu Lai Temple is a Fo Guang Shan (Mountain of Light Buddha) Buddhist temple located in Brazil. The denomination has its distant roots in Mahayana Buddhism, whose tradition emphasizes that the Buddha nature is within every living being.

Canada

  • Bangladesh Buddhist Association of Canada (BBAC)

    The Bangladesh Buddhist Association of Canada (BBAC) is a nonprofit, non-political and non-discriminatory organization established in 2007 in Toronto, Canada. It works to promote Buddhism to the Canadian community by reaching out to the youth, providing a place of worship and extending a hand to those who are in need. The website offers a list of BBAC locations in Canada.

  • Mathieu Boisvert

    Mathieu Boisvert is a professor in the department of Religious Sciences at the Universite du Quebec a Montreal in Canada. He studies Buddhist monasticism, pilgrimage and transmission of traditional knowledge.

  • Buddha of Compassion Society

    The Buddha of Compassion Society is a nonprofit organization for the international study and practice of Buddhist meditation and teachings.

  • Canadian Engaged Buddhist Association

    The Canadian Engaged Buddhist Association is a nonprofit, spiritual organization that is dedicated to promoting the Buddhist faith in Canada and internationally. The website offers resources on general practices and philosophies and current news and events.

  • Robert Florida

    Robert Florida is an associate fellow at the University of Victoria in Canada. He studies ethical issues in modern Buddhism.

    Contact: 250-721-6325.
  • Jodo Shinshu Buddhist Temples of Canada

    Jodo Shinshu Buddhist Temples of Canada (formerly Buddhist Churches of Canada) is a Jodo Shinshu Buddhist organization affiliated with the Nishi Hongwanji of Kyoto, Japan. The sect focuses on the ultimate goal of enlightenment symbolized by Pure Land Buddhism. The website offers information on temples in Canada and other readings and resources on Jodo Shinshu Buddhism.

  • Manjushri Buddhist Community

    The Manjushri Buddhist Community is an online organization that offers Buddhist resources such as the teachings, philosophies and practices of the religion. The website offers links to additional Buddhist organizations in Canada.

  • Bruce Matthews

    Bruce Matthews is a professor of comparative religion at Acadia University in Nova Scotia, Canada. He teaches courses on the geopolitics of Asia, with an emphasis on the influence of Buddhism. His research interests include Buddhism and politics in South and Southeast Asia, particularly in Sri Lanka and Myanmar.

  • Ottawa Inter-Community Buddhist Society

    Ottawa Inter-Community Buddhist Society is a temple with several resident Buddhist monks from Sri Lanka and other Asian Buddhist countries.

  • Sumeru Guide to Canadian Buddhism

    The Sumeru Guide to Canadian Buddhism is an online organization that provides resources on all things Buddhist, from resources on practices to additional organizations in Canada. Contact through the website.

  • Albert Welter

    Albert Welter is a professor in the department of Religious Studies at the University of Winnipeg in Canada. He is known as a leading expert a leading expert in the academic study of Chan (Zen) Buddhist texts and Chinese Buddhism during the transition from the Tang (late medieval) to the Song (early modern) dynasties (9th-11th centuries).

  • Jeff Wilson

    Jeff Wilson is an associate professor of religious studies and East Asian studies at Renison University College. He focuses on the interaction of Buddhism and various aspects of North American culture.

Europe

  • Giulio Agostini

    Giulio Agostini currently lives in Milan and specializes in Indian Buddhism, as well as in classical Chinese, Tibetan, Sanskrit and Pali materials. Previously a faculty member at the University of California, Berkley, he continues to pursue his research and publish in about Vinaya and Hinayana literature and lay Buddhism in ancient India.

  • Association Zen Internationale

    Association Zen Internationale, based in Paris, is the oldest and largest Zen association in Europe. It brings together several hundred places of practice such as temples, Zen centers and groups.

    Contact: +00-33-0-1-45-89-14-00.
  • Stephen and Martine Batchelor

    Stephen and Martine Batchelor are Buddhist teachers and authors who live in South West France and conduct meditation retreats and seminars worldwide. They both trained as monastics for ten years in traditional Buddhist centers in Asia, and now present a lay and secular approach to Buddhist practice.

  • The Buddhist House (Das Buddhistische Hause)

    The Buddhist House (Das Buddhistische Hause) is a Buddhist house of worship for Theravada Buddhists in Germany. The house provides a place for meditation, education, prayer and peace.

  • The Buddhist Society

    The Buddhist Society is an organization in London that makes known the principles of Buddhist traditions and beliefs and encourages the practice of those principles.

  • Centrum Lotus

    Centrum Lotus is an organization in the Czech Republic that promotes the spiritual side of life “with emphasis on Buddhist philosophy and meditation practice.”

  • European Buddhist Union (EBU)

    European Buddhist Union (EBU) is an organization that unites the communities and all denominations of Buddhism across Europe. The organization works to promote Buddhism in Europe and connect the current Buddhist communities with each other across the country. Contact President Jamie Cresswell.

  • European Institute of Applied Buddhism (EIAB)

    European Institute of Applied Buddhism (EIAB) is a nonprofit organization based in Waldbrol, Germany, and founded by globally known Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh. EIAB offers a program of training in concrete methods that relieve suffering and promote happiness and peace. The training integrates the study of Buddhist texts with concrete applications in daily life.

  • The Garden of Buddha Vajradhara (Kagyu Dzong)

    The Garden of Buddha Vajradhara (Kagyu Dzong) is a Buddhist temple in Paris affiliated with the Karma Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism.

  • Rupert Gethin

    Rupert Gethin is a professor of Buddhist studies at the University of Bristol in England. His main research interest is the history and development of Buddhist thought in the Nikayas and Abhidhamma.

  • International Buddhist Association

    International Buddhist Association maintains a primary office in Lausanne, Switzerland, and aims to advance and contribute actively to the multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary development of Buddhist studies through conferences, symposia and publications.

  • Italian Buddhist Union

    The Italian Buddhist Union is a nonprofit organization in Rome that works to meet the increasing demand of Italians interested in Buddhism. The organization offers resources on the history and beliefs of Buddhism.

  • Damien Keown

    Damien Keown is a professor of Buddhist ethics at Goldsmiths, University of London. Within Buddhist ethics, he focuses on the theoretical foundations and normative applications, with particular reference to medicine and biotechnology.

  • Rita Langer

    Rita Langer is a senior lecturer in Buddhist studies at the University of Bristol in England. Her research focuses on the theory of consciousness in early Pali sources and Buddhist ritual and its origin in South and Southeast Asia, particularly Sri Lanka.

  • Network of Buddhist Organizations (UK)

    The Network of Buddhist Organizations in the United Kingdom is “a national umbrella organisation for UK Buddhism.” Contact Jamie Cresswell.

  • Network of Engaged Buddhists

    Network of Engaged Buddhists is a support group and discussion forum for engaged Buddhism in the United Kingdom. Its membership is currently about 200 people.

  • Valencia Buddhist Centre

    The Valencia Buddhist Centre is an international organization located in Valencia, Spain, that works to implement and communicate Buddhist teachings and tools to the Western world.

  • Plum Village

    Plum Village, located in Loubes-Bernac, France, is the home-base for Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, poet, scholar and peace activist who founded the Unified Buddhist Church, the Van Hanh Buddhist University in Saigon and the School for Youths of Social Services in Vietnam. Martin Luther King Jr. nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967. Plum Village is a Buddhist monastery for monks and nuns and a mindfulness practice center for lay people.

    Contact: +33-5-53-94-75-40.
  • Western Chan Fellowship

    Western Chan Fellowship is an association of lay Chan practitioners based in the United Kingdom. Its principal activities include organizing meditation retreats and coordinating a network of local meditation groups. It has overseas contacts in Croatia, Norway, Poland, Germany, Switzerland and the U.S.

  • Western Shugden Society

    Western Shugden Society, based in London, is an international coalition of Buddhist practitioners who engage in traditional prayers to Dorje Shugden, a dharma protector. This practice has been banned by the Dalai Lama, which has created a schism in the Buddhist community. WSS is committed to securing religious freedom for any Buddhist who wishes to engage in Dorje Shugden practice and to restore cooperation between Shugden and non-Shugden practitioners around the world. The website offers a free download of a WSS book, A Great Deception: The Ruling Lamas’ Policies.

  • Paul Williams

    Paul Williams is a emeritus professor of Indian and Tibetan philosophy in the department of theology and religious studies at the University of Bristol, England. He has mainly studied Madhyamaka Buddhist philosophy, a school of Buddhism which developed in India initially during the first century and had a wide influence on Buddhist thought in India.

  • Zen Buddhist Association of Europe (ABZE)

    The Zen Buddhist Association of Europe (ABZE) is an organization in France that works to organize and spread the practice of Soto Zen Buddhism.

Middle East

  • Community of Mindfulness in Israel

    The Community of Mindfulness in Israel practices and promotes the mindfulness tradition of Zen throughout the Middle East. The organization is located in Tel Aviv.

  • Tovana

    Tovana is an organization that promotes the spiritual teachings and practices of Buddhism, focusing on inner peace, awakening and a life of harmony and wisdom.

Asia

  • Asian Institute of Applied Buddhism (AIAB)

    Asian Institute of Applied Buddhism (AIAB) is a center for Buddhism studies and practices, with a resident monastic community in the tradition of Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh. AIAB was established to bring relevant aspects of Buddhism to the people of Asia by promoting the teachings and the practices of Buddhism.

  • Central Tibetan Administration (CTA)

    Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) is an organization based in Dharamshala, India, established by the Dalai Lama shortly after his exile from Tibet. It is commonly referred to as the Tibetan government-in-exile, politically advocating for Tibetan refugees and for freedom in Tibet.

  • En-su Cho

    En-su Cho is a professor of Buddhist philosophy at Seoul National University in Korea and currently is the director of the Institute of Philosophical Research. Her research interests include Indian Abhidharma Buddhism, Korean Buddhist thought and women in Buddhism.

  • Chung-Hwa Institute of Buddhist Studies

    Chung-Hwa Institute of Buddhist Studies, located in New Taipei City, Taiwan, concentrates on being a global advocate for the academic study and research of Chinese Buddhism. It is part of the Dharma Drum Mountain World Center for Buddhist Education.

  • Dharma Drum Mountain (DDM)

    Dharma Drum Mountain (DDM) is an influential international Buddhist spiritual, cultural and educational foundation with its international headquarters in New Taipei City, Taiwan. DDM developed from the Nung Chan Monastery and the Chung-Hwa Institute of Buddhist Culture. Its website includes a list of global affiliates

  • International Association of Shin Buddhist Studies (IASBS)

    The International Association of Shin Buddhist Studies (IASBS) is a worldwide organization with headquarters in Japan that works to promote Jodo Shinshu and Pure Land Buddhism throughout the globe by providing academic classes and information on the religion.

  • Japan Theravada Buddhist Association

    Japan Theravada Buddhist Association is an organization in Tokyo that provides resources on Theravada Buddhism such as meditation, prayer, history and traditions.

  • Jinwol Y. H. Lee

    Jinwol Y. H. Lee, a Buddhist monk and Zen master, teaches Buddhist meditation and culture as chair professor of the department of Seon studies and director of the Institute of Seon at Dongguk University, Gyeongju in South Korea. He belongs to the Jogye order of Korean Buddhism, the major traditional Mahayana Buddhism in Korea. He is working as a vice president of the World Fellowship of Buddhists, the oldest and largest Buddhist global organization around the world.

  • Library of Tibetan Works and Archives

    Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, founded by the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, India, is considered one of the most important libraries and institutions of Tibetan works in the world. It was first established to house manuscripts carried out of Tibet when refugees escaped to India. The library now includes major collections of artifacts, manuscripts and other records, while also serving as a center for language and cultural education.

  • Moscow Buddhist Center of Lama Tsong Khapa

    The Moscow Buddhist Center of Lama Tsong Khapa is a Buddhist organization that works to unite the followers of Mahayana Buddhism in Moscow. The organization focuses on the study of Buddhist theory, practice, culture and spiritual heritage of Tibet. Contact through the website.

  • Charles Muller

    Charles Muller is a professor in the humanities department at Toyo Gakuen University in Japan. He is the author of The Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment: Korean Buddhism’s Guide to Meditation and can speak about Buddhism among Koreans. He also runs the website Resources for East Asian Language and Thought and has become interested in how the Internet can be used to share information about East Asian religions and philosophy. He has worked to electronically translate and interpret classical Buddhist works for Western audiences, including producing the Digital Dictionary of Buddhism.

  • National Office of Buddhism

    National Office of Buddhism is a Thailand-based organization that aims to protect and promote the prosperity of Buddhism in the country, operating under the prime minister’s office.

  • Nichiren Shu Order Headquarters

    Nichiren Shu Order Headquarters is the worldwide headquarters for the Nichiren Shu Buddhist order.

  • Nung Chang Monastery

    Nung Chang Monastery was constructed by master Dong Chu in Taipei City, Taiwan. It is the birthplace of the Dharma Drum Mountain tradition of Chan Buddhism.

    Contact: 886-2-2893-3161.
  • Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama

    Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, known in Tibetan as Gaden Phodrang, is the personal office of the current Dalai Lama and is located in Dharamsala, India. It handles the the Dalai Lama’s schedule and correspondence.

  • Matthieu Ricard

    Matthieu Ricard is a Buddhist monk, author, translator and photographer. He is originally from France, but now lives in at the Shechen Tennyi Dargyeling Monastery in Nepal. He is the author of several books, such as Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill, Why Meditate?, The Quantum and the Lotus and The Monk and the Philosopher. He is an active member of the Mind and Life Institute, and founder of Karuna-Shechen, a humanitarian association that develops education, medical and social projects for the most destitute populations of the Himalayan region.

  • Rissho Kosei-kai

    Rissho Kosei-kai is a Buddhist organization with headquarters in Tokyo that promotes Buddhism in communities throughout Japan. The organization has “2.05 million member households in 245 churches throughout Japan as well as in other countries.”

  • Sakya Centre

    Sakya Centre, situated in Dehradun, India, is the personal monastery of Sakya Trizin, the 41st head of the Sakya order of Tibetan Buddhism. He is considered second only to the Dalai Lama in the spiritual hierarchy of Tibetan Buddhism. The Sakya Centre is the main center for the Sakya tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. The center is a registered nonprofit society catering to the needs of society without any bias. It consists of a community of more than 200 monks, most from Tibet while some come from India, Nepal, Bhutan and other neighboring regions.

  • Sakyadhita in Sri Lanka

    Sakyadhita in Sri Lanka is a Buddhist organization that promotes humanitarianism and dharma based on the spiritual teachings of Buddhism. The organization provides resources on Buddhism.

  • Sathira Dhamasathan Center

    Sathira Dhamasathan Center in Bangkok is a meditation and learning community for peace and harmony that has programs open to people regardless of age and gender. Mae Chee Sansanee Sthirasuta, a Buddhist nun who is renowned in Thailand for her teachings and humanitarian efforts, founded the center in 1987. The center believes that every human being has the potential to live a life that is free from suffering.

  • Soka Gakkai International (SGI)

    Soka Gakkai International (SGI) is an international organization with its roots in Ontario that is committed to spreading peace, culture and education based on the humanistic Buddhist philosophy of Nichiren Daishonin. The organization has more than 12 million members in 192 countries and territories worldwide.

  • Kenneth Kenshin Tanaka

    Kenneth Kenshin Tanaka is a professor of Buddhist studies at Musashino University in Tokyo and is an ordained Shin Buddhist minister. He also serves as president of the International Association of Shin Buddhist Studies. Educated both in Japan and the U.S., he is a bicultural specialist and prolific writer on Pure Land Buddhism.

  • Ha Vinh Tho

    Ha Vinh Tho is a Buddhist teacher in the tradition of Vietnamese Zen Buddhism. He is the program development coordinator of the Gross National Happiness Centre in Bhutan. He is in charge of setting the learning objectives, developing the curriculum and the learning process both for Bhutanese and international participants. He is also the founder and chairman of the Eurasia Foundation, a humanitarian NGO developing educational programs for children and youths living with disabilities, as well as ecological projects in Vietnam.

  • Wat Paknam Bhasicharoen

    Wat Paknam Bhasicharoen, an ancient Buddhist temple established by royalty, is both a temple and a school in Bangkok that houses a large population of monks and nuns.

    Contact: 0-2467-0811, 0-2457-9042.
  • World Fellowship of Buddhists

    World Fellowship of Buddhists, with headquarters currently in Bangkok, is an international Buddhist organization. The WFB mission includes the propagation of Buddhism, promotion of solidarity and unity of Buddhists all over the world. There are more than 140 regional centers in 37 countries worldwide.

Myanmar

  • Burma: End Repression of Buddhist Monks

    Human Rights Watch published a 99-page report in 2009 titled “The Resistance of the Monks: Buddhism and Protest in Burma.” The report, also available in Burmese, describes the repression Myanmar’s monks experienced after they led demonstrations against the government in September 2007. It tells the stories of individual monks who were arrested, beaten and detained.

  • Bruce Matthews

    Bruce Matthews is a professor of comparative religion at Acadia University in Nova Scotia, Canada. He teaches courses on the geopolitics of Asia, with an emphasis on the influence of Buddhism. His research interests include Buddhism and politics in South and Southeast Asia, particularly in Sri Lanka and Myanmar.

  • Juliane Schober

    Juliane Schober is an associate professor of religious studies at Arizona State University. She has studied Theravada Buddhism in Myanmar, including Myanmar rituals and the veneration of icons. Schober is editor of Sacred Biography in the Buddhist Traditions of South and Southeast Asia.

  • Diana Winston

    Diana Winston is the director of mindfulness education at the University of California, Los Angeles Mindful Awareness Research Center. She is a member of the Spirit Rock Teachers Council, founder of the Buddhist Alliance for Social Engagement Program and the former associate director of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship. She spent year as a Buddhist nun in Myanmar and is the author of Wide Awake: A Buddhist Guide for Teens.

U.S. sources

In the Northeast

  • Kaydor Aukatsang

    Kaydor Aukatsang, head of the Office of Tibet in New York, is the representative of the Dalai Lama to the Americas. He has served as a special adviser to Lobsang Sangay, the elected leader of the of the Tibetan government-in-exile, and as president of the Tibetan Association of Northern California.

  • Blue Cliff Monastery

    Blue Cliff Monastery, in Pine Bush, N.Y., is an extension of Plum Village meditation center in France. It is home to a community of Buddhist monks and nuns practicing sitting meditation, walking meditation, mindful eating, deep relaxation meditation and cultivating togetherness.

  • Bodhi Monastery

    Bodhi Monastery is a monastery in Lafayette, N.J., based on the teachings of Master Yin–Shun, a foremost Chinese modern scholar and monk. The monastery promotes the study and practice of Buddhism as a whole, with a special focus on Pali Buddhism and the early Mahayana tradition.

    Contact: 973-940-0473.
  • Buddhism Directory

    Buddhism Directory is an online source for Buddhist organizations operating in the Northeast United States, including New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Vermont.

  • Buddhist Association of the United States

    The Buddhist Association of the United States operates the Chuang Yen Monastery, an education center in Carmel, N.Y., dedicated to explaining the different schools of Buddhism and the common beliefs uniting them.

  • Buddhist Global Relief

    Buddhist Global Relief, based in Sparta, N.J. is an inter-denominational organization consisting of people from different Buddhist groups who are committed to alleviating social and economic suffering. Its mission is to combat chronic hunger and malnutrition.

  • Cambridge Insight Meditation Center

    Cambridge Insight Meditation Center is a nonprofit, nonresidential urban center for the practice of insight meditation in Cambridge, Mass. It offers a place for people to learn, support and deepen their practice under the guidance of three guiding meditation teachers: Larry Rosenberg, Narayan Helen Liebenson and Michael Grady.

  • Cambridge Zen Center

    Cambridge Zen Center, in Cambridge, Mass., is a nonprofit Zen Buddhist organization that provides Zen training, education and support through formal practice. It is one of the largest Buddhist outreach organizations in Massachusetts and the second largest residential Zen training locations in the U.S.

  • Chan Meditation Center

    Chan Meditation Center, located in Queens, N.Y., was founded by the late Chan master Sheng Yen with the purpose of bringing Chinese Chan Buddhism to the Western world. The organization runs various programs to teach the doctrine and practice of Chan Buddhism, to promote the purification of human life and to preserve traditional Chinese culture. The center is also a small monastery where bhikshus and bhikshunis live and practice the traditional precepts.

  • Ronald Davidson

    Ronald Davidson is a professor of religious studies at Fairfield University in Fairfield, Conn. His primary area of expertise is the history of tantric Buddhism in India and Tibet.

  • Dharma Drum Mountain Buddhist Association

    Dharma Drum Mountain Buddhist Association is a U.S. based nonprofit organization founded and led by master Sheng Yen, a renowned teacher of Chan Buddhism. It aims to support scholarly research in the field of Buddhism, particularly the Chan tradition, instructing and encouraging Buddhist practitioners through its centers in the United States. Its international activities include the organization of seminars and conferences that enhance understanding and respect between different cultures and religions. The website includes a listing of worldwide affiliates. 

  • Cheryl A. Giles

    Cheryl A. Giles is a licensed clinical psychologist and the Francis Greenwood Peabody Senior Lecturer on Pastoral Care and Counseling at Harvard Divinity School. She is a core faculty member of the Buddhist Ministry Program and the co-editor of The Arts of Contemplative Care: Pioneering Voices in Buddhist Chaplaincy and Pastoral Work. She is a student of Tibetan Buddhist meditation.

  • Joseph Goldstein

    Joseph Goldstein is co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Mass., where he is part of the IMS Guiding Teacher Council. He is the author of One Dharma: The Emerging Western Buddhism.

  • Janet Gyatso

    Janet Gyatso is Hershey Professor of Buddhist Studies at Harvard Divinity School in Boston, where she is co-chairwoman of the American Academy of Religion’s Buddhism section and president of the International Association of Tibetan Studies. Her work focuses on Tibetan Buddhism and religious culture, including issues of sex and gender. She is co-author of Women in Tibet: Past and Present.

  • Charles Hallisey

    Charles Hallisey is a senior lecturer on Buddhist literature at the Harvard Divinity School. He is co-chairman of the American Academy of Religion’s Buddhism section and can speak about Theravada Buddhism and Buddhist ethics.

  • Maria R. Heim

    Maria R. Heim is an asssociate professor of religion at Amherst College in Amherst, Mass. Her research centers on South Asian religions, with a specialization in Buddhism. She primarily focuses on the intellectual history of the Theravada tradition today in Sri Lanka and mainland Southeast Asia.

  • Insight Meditation Society

    Insight Meditation Society is one of the Western world’s oldest meditation retreat centers. Teachers offer guidance in Buddhist meditations known as vipassana (insight) and metta (lovingkindness). IMS includes two retreat facilities – the Retreat Center and the Forest Refuge – in Barre, Mass.

  • The Interdependence Project

    The Interdependence Project in New York City is a nonprofit organization dedicated to Buddhist-inspired meditation, psychology, activism, mindful arts and media. It the only multi-lineage, secular buddhist center in New York City.

    Contact: 917-675-7151.
  • Dokuro Jaeckel

    Dokuro Jaeckel is a Buddhist chaplain at Harvard University. He was ordained a Zen monk by one of the foremost Japanese Zen masters in the United States, Joshu Sasaki Roshi.

  • Kurukulla Center for Tibetan Buddhist Studies

    Kurukulla Center for Tibetan Buddhist Studies was founded in Medford, Mass., under the direction of Lama Zopa Rinpoche and the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition. The center’s mission is to provide a community of support for those who are studying and practicing the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

  • John Makranshky

    John Makranshky is an associate professor of Buddhism and comparative theology at Boston College. He is the senior faculty advisor and visiting lecturer for Kathmandu University’s Centre for Buddhist Studies in Nepal. He is also the guiding teacher and co-founder of the Foundation for Active Compassion. He researches Indian Buddhist texts to see how doctrines of buddhahood have developed.

  • Mind and Life Institute

    Mind and Life Institute was created in 1987 to promote neuroscience research on the mind, Buddhism, health and meditation.

  • Morning Star Zendo

    Morning Star Zendo, located in Jersey City, N.J., invites people of all faiths to practice Zazen, or sitting meditation. Robert Kennedy, a Jesuit priest and Zen teacher in the White Plum lineage, is the main teacher.

  • Mark Nathan

    Mark Nathan is an assistant professor of history and Asian studies at the University at Buffalo, SUNY. He specializes in Korean Buddhism from the late 19th century to today, and also studies law and religion, transnational religious developments and religious propagation in Asia.

  • Natural Dharma Fellowship

    Natural Dharma Fellowship is a nonprofit religious organization of Buddhist practitioners who follow the Tibetan traditions of Mahamudra and Dzogchen. Guided by Lama Willa Miller, the organization supports practice groups in the Northeastern United States and offers contemplative retreats at the Wonderwell Mountain Refuge retreat center in New Hampshire.

  • New York Insight

    New York Insight is an urban center in New York City for the practice of Vipassana meditation. In reflection of the diversity of New York City, the center focuses on welcoming people of different ages, cultures, ethnicities, sexual orientations, gender identities and spiritual backgrounds.

  • Office of Tibet

    Office of Tibet in New York is the official agency of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan administration-in-exile, based in Dharamsala, India. It was established in 1964 to raise the issue of Tibet at the United Nations. Its responsibilities now include supporting Tibetans living in the US and Canada, coordinating visits of the Dalai Lama to the Americas and more.

  • Jin Y. Park

    Jin Y. Park is an assistant professor in the department of philosophy and religion at American University in Washington, D.C. She specializes in Buddhist philosophy; her doctoral dissertation was on Zen Buddhism and postmodern thought.

  • Sung-bae Park

    Sung-bae Park is a professor of religious studies at Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, New York, with an expertise in interfaith dialogue such as Buddhist-Christian dialogue and the Buddhist-Confucian debate in Korea. He is the founder and director of the Center for Korean Studies at Stony Brook.

  • The Pluralism Project

    The Pluralism Project at Harvard University lists resources across the country by religious tradition, including interfaith resources. It is aimed at engaging students in studying the new religious diversity in the United States.

  • Charles S. Prebish

    Charles S. Prebish is a professor of religious studies at Pennsylvania State University. He is a co-founder of the Journal of Buddhist Ethics and can speak about the development of Buddhism in North America and the way the Internet has been used to connect Buddhists worldwide. He wrote a chapter, “The Cybersangha: Buddhism on the Internet,” for the book Religion Online: Finding Faith on the Internet.

  • Prison Dharma Network

    Prison Dharma Network, founded by Fleet Maull in Providence, R.I., is a national nonprofit, nonsectarian support network for Buddhist prisoners, volunteers and prison staff. Its mission is to provide evidence-based tools for rehabilitation, self-transformation and personal and professional development, particularly through mindfulness-based interventions. Contact through the website.

  • Christopher S. Queen

    Christopher S. Queen is a lecturer on the study of religion and dean of students for continuing education at Harvard University in Boston, where he teaches courses on Buddhism in America and Buddhism and social change. Read a June 18, 2004, interview he did with the Echo Chamber Project, in which he discusses Buddhism, war, peace and violence in movies. He is editor of Engaged Buddhism in the West and co-editor of Action Dharma: New Studies in Engaged Buddhism.

  • Sharon Salzberg

    Sharon Salzberg has taught insight meditation worldwide for more than 30 years. She is a co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society and the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies in Barre, Mass. Her many books include The Force of Kindness: Change Your Life With Love & Compassion and Loving-Kindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness.

  • Richard H. Seager

    Richard H. Seager is an associate professor of religious studies at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y. He is studying the globalization and Americanization of Buddhism and is the author of Buddhism in America and Encountering the Dharma: Daisaku Ikeda, Soka Gakkai and the Globalization of Buddhism Humanism.

  • Anthony Stultz

    Anthony Stultz is the founder and director of the Blue Mountain Lotus Society in Harrisburg, Pa., a nonprofit organization devoted to sharing the universal teachings of the Buddha in the 21st century. He also oversees the Center for Mindfulness Counseling, integrating Eastern and Western counseling techniques.

  • Robert Thurman

    Robert Thurman, professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist studies at Columbia University in New York, wrote “Human Rights and Responsibilities: Buddhist Views on Individualism and Altruism” in Religious Diversity and Human Rights. Thurman is also the author of The Jewel Tree of Tibet: The Enlightenment Engine of Tibetan Buddhism.

  • Tibet House US

    Tibet House US aims to promote and preserve Tibetan culture by serving as both a cultural center in New York City and an online global resource for Tibetan civilization. The New York City center serves as a meeting place for the local Tibetan community to hold programs and events. The website includes a global directory for Tibetan businesses and organizations throughout the U.S. and abroad, as well as a a list of experts on Buddhism, Tibetan medicine and science, meditation and Tibetan art and culture.

    Contact: 212-807-0563.
  • Kyoko Tokuno

    Kyoko Tokuno is a senior lecturer in comparative religion at the Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington. She focuses on Buddhist texts and culture of medieval China and Japan, their relation to Indian Buddhism and the development of Buddhist canon in East Asia.

  • Migmar Tseten

    Migmar Tseten, originally from Tibet, works with the Harvard Buddhist Community as Buddhist chaplain at Harvard University. He founded and directs the Sakya Institute of Buddhist Studies in Cambridge, Mass. His academic achievements have been recognized by the Dalai Lama.

  • Washington D.C. Buddhist Vihara

    Washington D.C. Buddhist Vihara was the first Theravada Buddhist monastic community in the United States. It is an educational and religious organization staffed by resident Bhikkhus (monks).

  • Jan Willis

    Jan Willis is a professor emerita of religion at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn. She is one of the earliest American scholar-practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism. Time named her one of six “spiritual innovators for the new millennium,” while Ebony called her one of its “Power 150” most influential African Americans. Some of her books include The Diamond Light: An Introduction to Tibetan Buddhist Meditation, On Knowing Reality: The Tattvartha Chapter of Asanga’s Bodhisattvabhumi and Enlightened Beings: Life Stories from the Ganden Oral Tradition.

  • Zen Mountain Monastery

    Zen Mountain Monastery, located in  Mount Tremper, N.Y., is the main house of the Mountains and Rivers order, a respected Zen Buddhist monastery and training center in the West. The sangha also includes practitioners at the Zen Center of New York and the order’s affiliate groups.

In the South

  • Tara Brach

    Tara Brach is a leading Western teacher of Buddhist meditation, emotional healing and spiritual awakening. She is the senior teacher and founder of the Insight Meditation Community of Washington. A clinical psychologist, she is the author of Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha and True Refuge: Finding Peace & Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart.

  • John D. Dunne

    John D. Dunne is a professor in the department of east asian languages and literature and the distinguished professor of contemplative humanities at the Center for Healthy Minds. He was a former assistant professor in the religion department at Emory University in Atlanta. He is the author of Foundations of Dharmakirti’s Philosophy, an examination of Buddhist epistemology. Dunne has also written about meditation and neuroscience, and his current research focuses on theories of Buddhist mysticism.

  • Henepola Gunaratana

    Henepola Gunaratana is the founding abbot of the Bhavana Society, community of monastics and lay people dedicated to the practice of Theravadan Buddhism. Born in rural Sri Lanka, he has been a monk since age 12 and took full ordination at age 20 in 1947. He has written several books, including Mindfulness In Plain English and Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness, and taught in a number of settings, including American University. He received the title of Chief Sangha Nayaka Thera for North America, acknowledging his status as highest-ranking monk of his sect in the United States and Canada.

  • Ruben Habito

    Ruben Habito is a professor of world religions and spirituality at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. He is co-editor of The Practice of Altruism: Caring and Religion in a Global Perspective. He specializes in Buddhism and wrote a chapter in Altruism in World Religions.

  • Steven Heine

    Steven Heine is professor of religious studies and history and director of the Asian studies program at Florida International University in Miami, where he specializes in Japanese Buddhism and can also speak about contemporary Buddhism in the West. He is the author of White Collar Zen: Using Zen Principles to Overcome Obstacles and Achieve Your Career Goals.

  • Sumi Loundon Kim

    Sumi Loundon Kim is the Buddhist chaplain at Duke University and teacher for the Buddhist Families of Durham. She has published two anthologies about young Buddhists: Blue Jean Buddha and The Buddha’s Apprentices. Originally brought up in a Soto Zen community, she has been following the Theravada lineage for the past 20 years.

  • Anne C. Klein

    Anne C. Klein is a professor of Asian religions at Rice University in Houston. The author of five books, she can speak about Indo-Tibetan Buddhist thought and practice and about women in Buddhism. She is also co-founding director of Dawn Mountain, a center in Houston for contemplative study and practice.

  • Miriam Levering

    Miriam Levering is professor of religious studies at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, where she is the editor of Zen Inspirations: Essential Meditations and Texts and can speak about women in Zen Buddhism.

  • Magnolia Grove Monastery

    Magnolia Grove Monastery is a residential monastery in Batesville, Miss., and is simultaneously Magnolia Village, a mindfulness practice meditation center in the tradition of Plum Village founded by Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh.

  • Louis Mitsunen Kyogen Nordstrom

    Louis Mitsunen Kyogen Nordstrom is an ordained monk in both the Rinzai and Soto schools who teaches at the Hokori-Ji Temple, a Zen community located in Lakeland, Florida. He has taught at Columbia Unviversity, Wesleyan University, New York University and more. He is the editor of Namu Dai Bosa: A Transmission of Zen to America, and is also the non-resident teacher at Brevard Zen Center in Cocoa, Florida. 

  • Mario Poceski

    Mario Poceski is assistant professor of Buddhist studies at the University of Florida in Gainesville, where his work focuses on the Chan school of Chinese Buddhism.

  • Jeffrey Samuels

    Jeffrey Samuels is an assistant professor of religious studies at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, where he has studied monastic recruitment and the training of young children as Buddhist novices. He has interviewed monks in Sri Lanka and children in training to become monks, studying how the rituals and aesthetics of Buddhist life inform their decisions and giving them cameras to record their own lives.

  • Daniel Stuart

    Daniel Stuart is an assistant professor in the department of religious studies at the University of South Carolina. He is a scholar of South Asian religions, literary cultures and meditation traditions who specializes in the texts and practices of the Buddhist tradition.

  • The University of Virginia Tibet Center

    The University of Virginia Tibet Center provides a forum for faculty, students and staff from diverse fields, united by their expertise and interest in Tibet. Tibet Center affiliated faculty span multiple departments, including anthropology, art, computer science, East Asian languages, literatures and cultures, history, politics and religious studies. Tibetan Buddhism scholars include David Germano, editor of the Journal of the International Association of Tibetan Studies and the founder and director of the Tibetan and Himalayan Library Tibetan and Himalayan Library (THL), and Jeffrey Hopkins, professor emeritus who served as the Dalai Lama’s chief interpreter into English on international lecture tours and founded the UVa program in Buddhist studies and Tibetan studies.

  • World Religions & Spirituality Project (WRSP)

    World Religions & Spirituality Project (WRSP) through Virginia Commonwealth University provides comprehensive information about the world’s religious and spiritual groups, with a primary focus on groups currently found in North America. The WRSP website includes profiles that include a presentation of a group’s distinctive beliefs, rituals, organization, leadership and challenges.

  • Jimmy Yu

    Jimmy Yu is the Sheng Yen assistant professor of Chinese Buddhism at Florida State University. His research interests include Buddhism and Chinese religions, the history of the body in Chinese religions, Buddhist material culture, systems of Buddhist meditation practice and Chan and Zen Buddhism.

In the Midwest

  • Juhn Ahn

    Juhn Ahn is an assistant professor of Buddhist and Korean studies at the University of Michigan. His current research focuses on the development of medieval Korean Buddhism.

  • Stephen C. Berkwitz

    Stephen C. Berkwitz wrote “History and Gratitude in Theravada Buddhism,” which appeared in the September 2003 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion. He heads the department of religious studies at Missouri State University in Springfield.

  • Buddhist Council of the Midwest

    Buddhist Council of the Midwest, based in Evanston, Ill., is an organization for all Buddhist groups in Chicago and the Midwest area. The council is inclusive of all three Buddhist traditions. Its purpose is to foster the learning and practice of Buddhism, to represent the Midwest Buddhist community in matters affecting its membership and to coordinate efforts by its membership to create an atmosphere of fellowship. The website includes a directory of member temples and centers in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin.

  • Deer Park Buddhist Center

    Deer Park Buddhist Center, founded in 1975, is a full-scale monastic teaching center and community of monks, nuns and laypersons committed to practicing Tibetan Buddhism. Center Director Geshe Lhundub Sopa is globally renowned Tibetan Buddhism spiritual master who has played a key role in rooting Tibetan Buddhism in the United States. His life work has been in the heartland of America. He was the first Tibetan to be tenured in an American university, and went on to teach Buddhist philosophy, language and culture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for 30 years.

  • Donald S. Lopez Jr.

    Donald S. Lopez Jr. is Arthur E. Link Distinguished University Professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where he is the author of Prisoners of Shangri-La: Tibetan Buddhism and the West and editor of Critical Terms for the Study of Buddhism. Read an interview with Lopez from a university publication in which he describes the rising Western interest in Buddhism.

  • Paul David Numrich

    Paul David Numrich is a professor of world religions and interreligious relations at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, Ohio . He was also the co-director of the Religion, Immigration and Civil Society in Chicago Project. He is co-author of Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs in America. He is the author of “Marriage, Family and Health in Selected World Religions: Different Perspectives in an Increasingly Pluralist America,” published in 2002 in Marriage, Health and the Professions.

In the West

  • Walter Truett Anderson

    Walter Truett Anderson is an independent writer, lecturer, political scientist, social psychologist and author of Open Secrets: A Guide to Tibetan Buddhism for Western Spiritual Seekers and The Next Enlightenment, which highlights the similarities between Western constructivist thought and Eastern spiritual traditions such as Buddhism.

  • James Baraz

    James Baraz leads the Insight Meditation Community of Berkeley and is a founding teacher of Spirit Rock Meditation Center where, in addition to leading retreats, he coordinates the Community Dharma Leader program. He created and teaches the Awakening Joy course, is on the international advisory board of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship and leads meditation retreats nationally and internationally.

  • Carl W. Bielefeldt

    Carl W. Bielefeldt is a professor of religious studies and director of the Center for East Asian Studies at Stanford University in California. He specializes in East Asian Buddhism and is editor of the Soto Zen Text Project, which is preparing annotated translations of the scriptures of the Soto school of Japanese Zen.

  • Mark Blum

    Mark Blum is a University of California, Berkeley professor and Shinjo Ito distinguished chair in Japanese studies. He specializes in Pure Land Buddhism throughout East Asia and also works in the area of Japanese Buddhist responses to modernism, Buddhist conceptions of death in China and Japan and historical consciousness in Buddhist thought.

  • William M. Bodiford

    William M. Bodiford is professor of Asian languages and cultures at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is associate editor of the Encyclopedia of Buddhism and editor of Going Forth: Visions of Buddhist Vinaya. He can speak about Japanese Buddhism, including rituals and worship of local gods.

  • Buddha’s Light International Association

    BLIA is a faith-based organization of monastic and lay Buddhists, and an NGO under the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. Work done by BLIA include promoting education and raising gender equality, providing medical services and emergency relief, and supporting environmental sustainability. The association emphasizes long-term assistance, especially regarding education and basic health services for women and children.

  • Buddhist Churches of America

    Buddhist Churches of America, with headquarters in San Francisco, Calif., is the United States branch of the Honpa Hongan-ji sub-sect of Jodo Shinshu Buddhism. The main temple of this sect is Ryukoku-zan Hongwanji in Kyoto, Japan. BCA is a nonprofit religious corporation with more than 60 independent temples and a number of fellowships and sanghas. It is the second oldest Buddhist organization in the United States.

    Contact: 415-776-5600 ext. 11.
  • Robert Bushwel

    Robert Bushwell is a professor of Buddhist studies in the University of California, Los Angeles department of Asian languages and cultures, the Irving and Jean Stone Chair in humanities at UCLA and the founding director of the university’s Center for Buddhist Studies and Center for Korean Studies. He is considered to be the premier Western scholar on Korean Buddhism and one of the top specialists on the East Asian Zen tradition.

  • José Cabezón

    José Cabezón is a professor of Tibetan Buddhism and cultural studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He was a Buddhist monk in the Tibetan Gelukpa order for almost 10 years, living and studying for six years at the Jé College of Sera Monastery in South India. His current research involves Buddhism and sexuality, and the global commodification of Tibet and its culture. He’s also involved with the Sera Project, a digital multimedia effort designed to document life in one of Tibet’s great monasteries.

  • Center for Buddhist Studies

    Center for Buddhist Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, oversees a variety of research programs, scholarly events and outreach activities. Activities include a colloquium series, conferences, a visiting scholar program and the International Buddhist Film Festival.

  • James William Coleman

    James William Coleman is a sociology professor at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, Calif. He is the author of The New Buddhism: The Western Transformation of an Ancient Tradition.

  • Deer Park Monastery

    Deer Park Monastery in Escondido, Calif., is a residential monastic community and lay sangha under the guidance of Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh in the tradition of engaged Buddhism and mindfulness practice in everyday life.

  • Everyday Zen Foundation

    Everyday Zen Foundation is a nonprofit foundation in Oakland, Calif. Their work includes traditional Zen practice and work with Jewish and Christian meditation, the dying, lawyers, businesses, poetry and literature. This work is accomplished through the writings of Zen teacher and poet Norman Fischer.

  • Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition

    Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition, based in Portland, Ore., is an international, nonprofit organization founded by Lama Thubten Yeshe, a Tibetan Buddhist monk. The foundation is devoted to the transmission of the Mahayana Buddhist tradition and values worldwide through teaching, meditation and community service. Some of its affiliated projects include monasteries and nunneries in six countries, meditation centers in 36 countries, health and nutrition clinics, hospice services, publishing houses and more.

    Contact: 503-808-1588.
  • The Frederick P. Lenz Foundation

    The Frederick P. Lenz Foundation for American Buddhism, based in Los Angeles, seeks to inspire an enlightened American society that reflects universal Buddhist values of compassion, mindfulness and wakefulness. The foundation provides general assistance and restricted grants, program-related investments, education and training and other programs designed to grow American Buddhist institutions.

  • Gedatsu Church of America

    Gedatsu Church of America is an American Buddhist church with branches in Sacramento, Los Angeles and Honolulu. Gedatsu is an adaptation of Shugendou, an old Japanese practice focused on the development of spiritual experience, to modern life. Gedatsu is open to all people, including those from other religious faiths.

  • Clinton Godart

    Clinton Godart is an assistant professor of history at the University of Southern California. His research concerns the intellectual history of modern Japan, particularly the hybrid zones where science, religion and philosophy meet. His previous research involved the history of Buddhism in the 19th century, especially the way Buddhists engaged with Western philosophy and how Japanese intellectuals reacted to foreign categories of knowledge.

  • Steven D. Goodman

    Steven D. Goodman is the Research Director of Asian and comparative studies at the California Institute of Integral Studies. He is the co-editor of Tibetan Buddhism: Reason and Revelation, a source book for the study of Tibetan philosophy, and “Transforming the Causes of Suffering” in Mindfulness in Meaningful Work. He researches of the social context of East-West contact, particularly the effects of modernization on the adaptation and survival of Buddhist traditions.

  • Tenpa Gyaltsen

    Tenpa Gyaltsen is a professor of religious studies at Naropa University, a college founded in the Buddhist tradition in Boulder, Colo. He specializes in Buddhist studies, Tibetan language and Tibetan monastic education. Born in Nepal, Gyaltsen entered a monastery at age 13 and studied at Karma Shri Nalanda Institute of Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim, India, under recognized masters in the Kagyu lineage.

  • Peter Hershock

    Peter Hershock is an educational specialist at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii. His research includes examining contemporary issues from Buddhist perspectives.

  • Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple

    Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple, located in Los Angeles, Calif., is an affiliate of Shinshu Otani-ha, one of the oldest and largest denominations in Japan. It practices Shin Buddhism.

  • Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii

    Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii is a religious organization in Honolulu belonging to the Jodo Shinshu sect of Mahayana Buddhism. It represents 37 temples spread throughout the islands of Hawaii, Maui, Lanai, Oahu and Kauai. It is affiliated with the head temple Ryukoku-zan Hongwanji located in Kyoto, Japan.

  • Institute of Buddhist Studies

    Institute of Buddhist Studies provides graduate-level Buddhist education, ministerial and chaplaincy training and other educational programs in the San Francisco area. Based in Berkeley, Calif., it is affiliated with the Graduate Theological Union and the Buddhist Churches of America — the oldest Buddhist institution in North America.

    Contact: 510-809-1444.
  • International Buddhist Meditation Center

    International Buddhist Meditation Center was founded by Thich Thien-An, a Vietnamese scholar and Zen master. It was one of four original Zen centers founded in the U.S. to promote meditation and Buddhism in English to interested Americans.

  • Karuna Buddhist Vihara

    Karuna Buddhist Vihara is a Theravada monastery founded in Mountain View, Calif. The monastery is formally incorporated as a nonprofit Buddhist church in the state of California.

  • Tetsuden Kashima

    Tetsuden Kashima is a Professor of American ethnic studies and and an adjunct professor in the department of sociology at the University of Washington. He is the author of Buddhism in America: The Social Organization of an Ethnic Religious Institution. His research interests include World War II American and Canadian internment camps, Asian-American sociology and communities and Japanese American religious institutions, attitudes and beliefs.

  • Jack Kornfield

    Jack Kornfield, a Buddhist monk, is founding teacher of the Insight Meditation Society and Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, Calif. Kornfield is the author of Buddha’s Little Instruction Book, After the Ecstasy, the Laundry: How the Heart Grows Wise on the Spiritual Path and other books on Buddhist life.

  • Noah Levine

    Noah Levine is a Buddhist teacher based in Los Angeles and author of the books Dharma Punx: A Memoir and Against the Stream. He is the founding teacher of Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society, with two centers in Los Angeles and more than 20 affiliated groups around North America. As a counselor known for his philosophical alignment with Buddhism and punk ideology, he identifies his Buddhist beliefs and practices with both the Theravada and Mahayana traditions. He teaches meditation classes, workshops and retreats nationally as well as leading groups in juvenile halls and prisons.

  • Judy Lief

    Judy Lief is a Buddhist teacher based in Boulder, Colo. She wrote Making Friends with Death: A Buddhist Guide to Encountering Mortality and presents workshops on a contemplative approach to death and on the teachings of the Tibetan Book of the Dead.

  • Los Angeles Buddhist Vihara

    Los Angeles Buddhist Vihara was established by the Sri Lanka America Buddha Dharma Society to provide dharma service and to promote the Theravada Buddhist tradition. It was the first Sri Lankan Theravada temple in the Los Angeles area.

  • David R. Loy

    David R. Loy is a professor, writer and Zen teacher in the Sanbo Kyodan tradition of Japanese Zen Buddhism based in Boulder, Colo.

  • Maida Center of Buddhism

    Maida Center of Buddhism in Berkley, Calif., is designed for the study and enhancement of Shin Buddhism in the U.S.

  • Ejo McMullen

    The Rev. Ejo McMullen is resident priest at the Eugene Zendo, a Soto Zen Buddhist temple in Eugene, Ore.

  • Lori Meeks

    Lori Meeks is associate professor of religion and East Asian language and cultures at the University of Southern California. She is co-chair of the American Academy of Religion’s Buddhism section.

  • Franz A. Metcalf

    Franz A. Metcalf teaches comparative religion at California State University in Los Angeles and edits the national newsletter of the Forge Guild of Spiritual Teachers and Leaders. He is the author of Buddha in Your Backpack: Everyday Buddhism for TeensWhat Would Buddha Do?: 101 Answers to Life’s Daily Dilemmas and co-author of What Would Buddha Do at Work: 101 Answers to Workplace Dilemmas. He wrote his doctoral dissertation on “Why Do Americans Practice Zen Buddhism?”

  • Metta Forest Monastery

    Metta Forest Monastery is a meditation monastery in Valley Center, Calif., in the lineage of the Thai Forest Tradition. Their dhamma teachings and more information about Buddhism, meditation and the Thai Forest Tradition can be found at dhammatalks.org.

    Contact: 619-813-8461.
  • Nichiren Buddhist International Center

    Nichiren Buddhist International Center, based in Hayward, Calif., is a U.S. headquarters for the Nichiren Shu Buddhist order. The worldwide headquarters is in Tokyo, Japan. The website offers a global directory for temples around the world.

  • Richard Payne

    Richard Payne is dean of the Institute of Buddhist Studies and professor of Buddhist studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif. He can speak about Tantric rituals and Buddhist spiritual practices.

  • The Pema Chodron Foundation

    The Pema Chodron Foundation, based in Steamboat Springs, Colo., is dedicated to preserving and sharing the teachings of Pema Chodron, a Buddhist teacher, author and nun.

  • William Powell

    William Powell is an emeritus professor of Chinese religions and Buddhist studies in the department of East Asian languages and cultural studies and the department of religious studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He was trained in the philological methods of Buddhist studies. His work focuses on the relationship between Chinese Buddhism, pilgrimage and sacred space, particularly mountains.

  • Rissho Kosei-kai International of North America

    Rissho Kosei-kai International of North America, located in Los Angeles, is the Rissho Kosei-kai’s regional center for North America. Originally founded in Japan in 1938, Rissho Kosei-ka shared teachings in the United States about 50 years ago. The website offers a directory for dharma centers in the U.S. and worldwide.

  • San Francisco Zen Center

    San Francisco Zen Center was established in the 1960s by Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, author of Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, and his American students. The center aims to make the Soto Zen tradition accessible. It is one of the largest Buddhist sanghas outside Asia, with three practice places, including the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center – the first Zen training monastery in the West.

  • Juliane Schober

    Juliane Schober is an associate professor of religious studies at Arizona State University. She has studied Theravada Buddhism in Myanmar, including Myanmar rituals and the veneration of icons. Schober is editor of Sacred Biography in the Buddhist Traditions of South and Southeast Asia.

  • Robert Sharf

    Robert Sharf is the D. H. Chen distinguished professor of Buddhist studies in the Department of East Asian languages and cultures at the University of California, Berkeley. He is also the chair of the Center for Buddhist Studies at Berkley. He also serves on the editorial boards of the Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies, Journal for the Study of Chinese Religions and Journal of Religion in Japan.

  • Judith Simmer-Brown

    Judith Simmer-Brown is a professor of Buddhist studies and chairwoman of the department of religious studies at Naropa University, a college founded in the Buddhist tradition in Boulder, Colo. She can speak about American Buddhism and about Buddhist-Christian dialogue. Read an article Simmer-Brown wrote called “American Buddhism: The Legacy for Our Children.” She is the author of Dakini’s Warm Breath: The Feminine Principle in Tibetan Buddhism and is co-author of Benedict’s Dharma: Buddhists Reflect on the Rule of Saint Benedict.

  • Soka Gakkai International (SGI)-USA

    Soka Gakkai International (SGI)-USA is an American Buddhist association based on the teachings of the Nichiren school of Mahayana Buddhism. Its website includes state-by-state contact information for Soka Gakkai centers around the United States.

  • Spirit Rock Meditation Center

    Spirit Rock Meditation Center is a spiritual education and training institution in Woodacre, Calif. It was created to be a living mandala: a Western dharma and retreat center dedicated to discovering and establishing the dharma in life.

  • Bob Stahl

    Bob Stahl is a certified mindfulness-based stress reduction teacher from the University of Massachusetts Medical Center and has founded seven mindfulness-based stress reduction programs in medical centers throughout the San Francisco area. He is the guiding teacher at Insight Santa Cruz and visiting teacher at Spirit Rock Meditation Center and Insight Meditation Society. Stahl also serves as an Adjunct Senior Oasis Teacher for Oasis Institute at the UMass Medical School’s Center for Mindfulness.

  • Reyn Yorio Tsuru

    Reyn Yorio Tsuru is president and director of mission at the Shingon Shu Hawaii Temple in Honolulu, Hawaii. The temple is a congregational school that studies Shingon esoteric Buddhism.

  • UCLA Center for Buddhist Studies

    UCLA Center for Buddhist Studies trains scholars and educates the broader community about the diversity of Buddhist religion and culture. Among U.S. universities, only UCLA covers all of the major traditions in this world religion. Today, UCLA has more faculty dedicated to Buddhist Studies than any other Western university.

  • Alexander von Rospatt

    Alexander von Rospatt is a professor for Buddhist and South Asian studies and director of the Group in Buddhist Studies at the University of California, Berkley. He specializes in the doctrinal history of Indian Buddhism and in Newar Buddhism, the only Indic Mahayana tradition that continues to persist in its original South Asian setting. He is the leading authority on Newar Buddhism.

  • Duncan Williams

    Duncan Williams, associate professor of East Asian languages and literature at the University of Southern California, specializes in Asian-American Buddhism and its relationship to the environment.

  • Diana Winston

    Diana Winston is the director of mindfulness education at the University of California, Los Angeles Mindful Awareness Research Center. She is a member of the Spirit Rock Teachers Council, founder of the Buddhist Alliance for Social Engagement Program and the former associate director of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship. She spent year as a Buddhist nun in Myanmar and is the author of Wide Awake: A Buddhist Guide for Teens.

  • Zen Hospice Project

    The Zen Hospice Project in San Francisco, founded in 1987, is the only residential Buddhist hospice in the United States and seeks to be open and present for those facing death. B.J. Miller is executive director.

Related articles

  • “American Buddhism’s Racial Divide”

    Read a Jan. 19, 2000, story from Beliefnet.com exploring whether there’s a divide in American Buddhism between “Asian Buddhists” and “New Buddhists” – converts from other ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

  • “Boomer Buddhism”

    Read a Feb. 26, 2001, story from Salon.com about baby boomer Buddhists who favor a more secularized style of practice (“no chanting, no incense, no monks and certainly no bowing”).

  • “Brother Thay: A Radio Pilgrimage with Thich Nhat Hanh”

    Listen to a March 17, 2005, program from Minnesota Public Radio’s Speaking of Faith in which Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hahn speaks of “engaged Buddhism,” peace and mindfulness.

  • “Buddha Rising”

    View a multimedia presentation on the National Geographic website based on a December 2005 story in the magazine about the growth of Buddhism in the West. There is a link to an excerpt from the story (the full text is only available to subscribers).

  • “Finding my Religion: Buddhist pastor Heng Sure talks about his 2½-year pilgrimage up the California coast”

    Read an interview from the May 2, 2005, San Francisco Chronicle with a Methodist-turned-Buddhist who took a six-year vow of silence.

  • “For the Dalai Lama, a Meeting of Brain and Mind”

    Read a Nov. 9, 2005, Washington Post story describing the controversy linked to the Buddhist leader’s involvement with such scientific work.

  • “Guess Who’s Coming to Dharma”

    Read a story from the June 26, 2001, Village Voice about the involvement of black women in Buddhism.

  • “Science Explores Meditation’s Effect on the Brain”

    Listen to a July 26, 2005, story from NPR’s Morning Edition in which scientists explore the idea that mindfulness and meditation can bring about a sense of well-being by changing the way the brain works. Part of that research involves studies of the brain activity of Buddhist monks.

  • “The Jewish-Buddhist Encounter”

    Read a commentary from MyJewishLearning.com by Ira Rifkin, about Jews who are attracted to Buddhism (some call them JuBus).

  • “Tensions in American Buddhism”

    Read the transcript of a July 6, 2001, Religion & Ethics Newsweekly story on PBS about tensions in American Buddhism, in part between the religion as it’s practiced by Asian immigrants and by converts in the West.

  • “Vacation Buddhist School Draws Kids”

    Read an Aug. 8, 2002, article on Beliefnet.com (reprinted from The Dallas Morning News) about a Buddhist summer program for children, a kind of Buddhist version of Vacation Bible School.

Buddhist media

  • BuddhaZine

    BuddhaZine is an online magazine associated with BuddhaNet. It provides Buddhist teachings, news, art and a variety of other current and interactive features relating to Buddhism.

  • The Buddhist Channel

    The Buddhist Channel provides online Buddhist news and features.

  • Buddhistdoor

    Buddhistdoor is an online site published by the Tung Lin Kok Yuen charitable foundation. It provides information about Buddhist teaching and the impact of Buddhist culture on the global community.

  • Buddhist Geeks

    Buddhist Geeks started as podcast for tech-savvy Buddhists looking for a fresh perspective on what it means to be a modern-day practitioner. It now includes retreats, conferences and an online community. Contact through the website.

  • Dharma World

    Dharma World is a quarterly magazine that presents Buddhism as a practical living religion and promotes inter-religious dialogue. It is connected to Rissho Kosei-kai. 

  • Do Not ZZZ

    Do Not ZZZ is a multimedia, interactive and humorous introduction to Zen.

  • Inquiring Mind

    Inquiring Mind is a semiannual journal dedicated to Buddhism in the West. It offers provoking interviews of Buddhist teachers, philosophers, psychologists and artists, art, poetry, stories and humorous essays. 

  • Journal of Buddhist Ethics

    The Journal of Buddhist Ethics is an academic journal affiliated with Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa. It was the first academic journal focused on Buddhist ethics. Daniel Cozort is general editor.

  • Journal of Global Buddhism

    The Journal of Global Buddhism is an online scholarly academic journal. Charles S. Prebish is its editor emeritus.

  • The Mindfulness Bell

    The Mindfulness Bell is a journal of the art of mindful living. It is published three times a year by the Community of Mindful Living. The website includes a complete list of worldwide sanghas in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh.

  • Shambhala Sun

    Shambhala Sun is the world’s best-selling and most widely read Buddhist magazine. It provides Buddhist teachings and ways to apply Buddhist wisdom to modern life issues.

  • Sweeping Zen

    Sweeping Zen is a web-based encyclopedic project dedicated to the advancement of Zen Buddhist studies in the West. It features in-depth interviews, an extensive database of biographies, news, articles, podcasts, teacher blogs, events, directories and more. Contact through the website.

  • Tricycle Foundation

    The Tricycle Foundation is a nonprofit educational organization that works to make resources on Buddhist views, values and practices broadly available.

  • Urban Dharma

    Urban Dharma is a web site offering articles, essays and photographs describing Buddhism in America. Offerings have included pieces on fasting, politics, psychedelics and a “meditation on a Coke can.”

  • Urthona

    Urthona magazine explores the arts and world culture from a Buddhist perspective.

  • Western Buddhist Review

    Western Buddhist Review is a journal of Buddhist ideas published by members of the Triratna Buddhist order.

  • WZEN

    WZEN offers a webcast (“Sounds from Zen Mountain”) from the teachers of the Mountains and Rivers order, along with Cybermonk, through which a senior monk will answer online questions about dharma.

Related source guides

Style guide

ahimsa
Pronounced “ah-HIM-saa.” The Sanskrit word meaning non-injury in any form, including action, thought or speech. This is an important principle of Hinduism and a core principle of Jainism. For this reason, many Hindus and most Jains are vegetarians, as are significant numbers of Sikhs and Buddhists.
Amida
Pronounced “ah-MEE-dah.” Japanese name of the Buddha of Infinite Light, a celestial Buddha venerated in Chinese and Japanese Mahayana Pure Land schools, which teach that calling upon the Buddha’s name (Namu-Amida-Butsu, “Veneration to the Buddha Amida”) will bring them into his paradise, or state of Buddhahood. His name is also seen in its Sanskrit form, Amitabha (pronounced “A-mi-TAH-bhah”). See Pure Land school.
arhat
Pronounced “AAR-het.” In early Buddhism, one who has attained full realization and transcended desires and defilements and who thus will not be reborn. It is the ideal goal in the Theravada tradition. In Pali, it is called arahant.
bhikkhu
Pronounced “BHIK-koo.” A fully ordained monk in the Theravada Buddhist tradition; a nun is a bhikkhuni. In the Mahayana tradition, the Sanskrit forms (bhikshu, bhikshuni) are used. Capitalize when used with a name.
Bodh Gaya
Pronounced “Bohd guh-YAA.” The site in northeast India of the tree under which the meditating Buddha attained realization.
bodhisattva
Pronounced “bohd-hi-SAHT-tvah.” In Mahayana Buddhism, one who strives to attain Buddhahood through the practice of prescribed virtues, while postponing his or her own entry into nirvana for the sake of helping others to enlightenment. The term also refers to various celestial beings who are venerated in some schools for their special ability to help those on the Buddhist path. See enlightenment and nirvana.
bodhisattva vow
The resolve in Mahayana Buddhism to become a Buddha for the sake of aiding all beings.
Buddha
Pronounced “BUD-dah” (first syllable “u” as in “put,” not a long “oo” sound). The Buddha, meaning “the awakened one,” refers to Siddhartha Gautama, the founder of Buddhism. A Buddha is anyone who has attained enlightenment. There are human Buddhas of the past, present and future as well as celestial Buddhas who are venerated in some Buddhist schools for their ability to help those on the path to liberation.
Buddhism
Buddhism, the fourth-largest organized religion in the world, was founded in India sometime between the sixth and fifth centuries B.C. based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, known as the Buddha, or the “awakened one.” Buddhism teaches that meditation and the practice of moral behavior (and, according to some schools, rituals) can lead to the elimination of personal craving and hence the release of suffering and the attainment of absolute peace (nirvana). This is gradually achieved through successive cycles of rebirth (although some schools say such liberation may be obtained as quickly as within one lifetime). Although Buddhism is frequently described as a nontheistic tradition since the historical Buddha did not claim to be divine and there is no concept of a divine absolute God — the vast and complex tradition of Buddhism includes an intricate cosmology of beneficent and wrathful deities as well as transcendent Buddhas and bodhisattvas who can be propitiated to help Buddhist practitioners on the path to enlightenment. There are three major forms or “vehicles” of Buddhism: Theravada, found in most of Southeast Asia, focuses on individual realization, with practices particularly directed to monastic life; Mahayana stresses the universality of Buddha-nature and the possibility of enlightenment for all beings. It developed into many variant schools in China, Japan and Korea; Vajrayana, or Tibetan Buddhism, is found in Tibet, Nepal and Mongolia. Vajrayana developed from the Mahayana tradition but is often considered separately as a third “vehicle.” See Buddha, Four Noble Truths, Eightfold Path and Siddhartha Gautama. Titles for Buddhist teachers or masters are capitalized when used with a name but lowercase otherwise. The title of lama generally precedes a name; rinpoche, sensei and roshi generally follow the name, but practice varies, especially in the United States. (For example, a well-known Japanese Zen teacher is always referred to as Maezumi Roshi; a well-known American Zen teacher is Roshi Bernard Glassman.) To determine how to refer to a particular Buddhist teacher, ask or try looking up the name through a database or other Web tool.
Dalai Lama
The title of the leader of Tibetan Buddhism and the spiritual and (now exiled) political leader of the people of Tibet. Dalai Lama is a title rather than a name, but it is all that is used when referring to the man. Capitalize when referring to the person who currently holds the title; lowercase when referring to the title in general. Each dalai lama is considered to be the reincarnation of the last; the current, 14th Dalai Lama left Tibet in 1959 after China’s invasion and resides in Dharamsala, India. Tibetan Buddhists address him as Your Holiness and refer to him in writing as His Holiness.
Dhammapada
Pronounced “Dhahm-muh-PAA-dah.” One of the most widely known verse texts of the Buddha’s teaching, it means “the path of dharma” and is part of a collection within the Sutta Pitaka.
dharma
Pronounced “DAHR-muh.” The mode of conduct for an individual that is most conducive to spiritual advancement. It includes universal human values as well as values that are specific to persons in various stages of life. In Hinduism it also refers to individual obligations in terms of law and social law. In Buddhism it is the teachings of Buddha from which an adherent molds his conduct on the path toward enlightenment.
Eightfold Path
In Buddhism, eight practical steps taught by the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, to end craving and thus eliminate suffering. The steps are right understanding, right intent, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration. Together with the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path constitutes the foundation of Buddhist thought; also referred to as the Noble Eightfold Path.
enlightenment
The goal of life in both Buddhism and Hinduism. For Hindus, it is union with God and self-realization. For Buddhists, it is realization of the truth about reality, achieved by following a system of practices (which may especially include meditation), in accordance with the particular school to which an adherent belongs. See Four Noble Truths.
Five Precepts
In Buddhism, principles for conduct that are followed by lay adherents. They are: Do not kill; do not steal; do not lie; do not be unchaste; do not take intoxicants. These precepts have broader, metaphorical as well as literal applications; for example, “Do not steal” means more broadly, “Do not take what is not given.”
Four Noble Truths
The fundamental truths that the historical Buddha realized in meditation and then taught to his followers: Life is suffering; the cause of suffering is craving; suffering can be eliminated by the extinguishing of craving; there is a way to achieve this goal (by following eight principles of conduct). See Eightfold Path.
geshe
Advanced degree of a Tibetan Buddhist scholar, much like a Ph.D.
Hinayana
Pronounced “hi-nuh-YAA-nah.” A term meaning “little vehicle” that was originally used by Mahayana Buddhists to refer to early Buddhism. It is generally considered pejorative; use Theravada instead. See Theravada.
karma
In Buddhism and Hinduism, the universal law of cause and effect; the effect (or fruits) of a person’s actions in one’s next lifetime. Lowercase in all references.
lama
A Tibetan Buddhist teacher or master. Capitalize when used as a title before a name, as in Lama Surya Das, or when referring to the man who holds the title Dalai Lama.
Madhyamika
Pronounced “muhd-YAA-mih-kah.” A Mahayana Buddhist sect based on the third-century teachings of Nagarjuna. It focuses on the emptiness (shunyata) of the cycle of worldly existence (samsara) and nirvana. It rests on the scripture known as the Prajnaparamita Sutra.
Mahayana
Pronounced “muh-hah-YAA-nah.” Literally “great vehicle,” it is one of the two main forms of Buddhism, along with Theravada. Its traditions emphasize the Buddha-nature of all beings; the ideal is the bodhisattva, one who works for enlightenment while delaying personal attainment of liberation in order to help others, and realization is as much a goal for lay adherents as for monastics. Its followers are called Mahayanists. Mahayana has many sects in China, Japan, Korea, Tibet and Mongolia including the Madhyamika, Yogachara, Nichiren, T’ien-t’ai, Zen, Pure Land and Vajrayana schools. Mahayanists see Buddha as more than a man who was a great spiritual teacher; they believe he is also a universal spiritual being to whom (in his various forms) prayers may be effectively directed. Mahayana schools use different scriptures, such as the Lotus Sutra (Nichiren and T’ien-t’ai schools) and the Heart Sutra (Zen schools).
mantra
Pronounced “MUN-tra.” A syllable, word or phrase with spiritual power, it is chanted or held in the mind in connection with meditation or ritual. Mantras are commonly used by Hindus, Buddhists and Jains and are traditionally drawn from Sanskrit scriptures, such as the Vedas. The adherents of some vernacular texts, such as the Hindi Ramcharitmanas, believe their verses have the power of mantra as well. Some of the more powerful mantras consist of a single syllable, the most popular of which is “om.” See om.
meditation
A quiet, alert, sustained, powerfully concentrated state in which new knowledge and insights are awakened from within as awareness focuses on an object or specific line of thought. In the West, practices that are taught as meditation are primarily techniques of concentration (“dharana” in Sanskrit). The more appropriate Sanskrit term for meditation is “dhyana”; it is more of a state of reflection on the nature of the self or of reality, and is one of the eight limbs of yoga.
merit
By ritual and ethical practices, the Buddhist adherent accumulates merit, or adds positive karma and offsets negative karma (the spiritual fruits of former actions) on the path to liberation.
Middle Path, Middle Way
The moderate path taken by the historical Buddha to enlightenment, one that avoided both the hedonism he had seen as a prince and the total asceticism he practiced for a time.
mindfulness
A term in Buddhism for the central practice of an alert, objective awareness that is directed to all activities throughout the day.
neo-Buddhism
A movement founded by B.R. Ambedkar in India in the mid-1950s to encourage members of the Hindu caste of untouchables to convert to Buddhism, which would assure them of social acceptance as well as spiritual guidance. Mass conversions are still held today.
Nichiren
A school within Mahayana Buddhism that was founded in 13th-century Japan by Nichiren. It calls on adherents to rely on the Lotus Sutra as the sole scripture needed for salvation, which is attained through veneration of the sutra’s sacred title, Namu-Myoho-renge-kyo.
nirvana
Pronounced “nir-VAA-nah.” In Buddhism and Hinduism, a state of ultimate peace that is the goal of all beings, which includes freedom from suffering, desire and the cycle of rebirth. The Buddha’s entrance into nirvana at his death is referred to as his parinirvana (pronounced “PAH-rih-nir-VAA-nah”).
no-self
In Buddhism, the major tenet that no “self” exists as an individual, independent substance; rather, the ego is a transitory collection, an ever-changing process of mental formations and impressions. Also called not-self, it is referred to as anatman in Sanskrit and anatta in Pali.
om mani padme hum
Pronounced “OHM MAH-nee PAHD-may HUMM.” An important mantra in Tibetan Buddhism, roughly translated as “(Homage to) the jewel in the lotus.” It honors the Buddha-nature of all beings.
Prajnaparamita Sutra
Pronounced “PRUHJ-nyaa-PAA-ruh-mi-taa SOO-trah.” The “Perfection of Wisdom Sutra,” a major scripture in Mahayana Buddhism. It teaches that all phenomena are marked by impermanence and insubstantiality and presents the bodhisattva path.
priest
The term used for ordained clergy of the Roman Catholic, Orthodox or Episcopal faith. Priest also is used by Wiccans and for some clergy in Buddhism and Hinduism. It is not a formal title and is not capitalized. Avoid the term minister when referring to Catholic priests. Also, while every priest has pastoral duties toward the baptized, the term pastor refers to the priest (and in rare cases, laymen or laywomen) charged by the bishop with overseeing a parish. A pastor may have one or more assistant pastors. Most Catholic priests in the United States are diocesan clergy, ordained by and for a particular diocese. They make promises of celibacy and obedience, but although they are expected to adhere to a modest lifestyle, they do not take vows of poverty and can own a home, for example, or a car. The term religious priests refers to priests who belong to a religious order, such as the Jesuits, and hold possessions in common.
Pure Land school
Japanese schools of Mahayana Buddhism whose teachings are based on devotion to the celestial Buddha Amida (also known as Amitabha). Jodoshu (Pure Land School), established in the 12th century by Honan, teaches that devotees have only to call upon Amida by name to invoke his aid on the path toward liberation. Honan’s disciple Shinran established Jodo Shinshu (True Pure Land School) with the same focus on the chanting of Amida’s name but specified that Amida Buddha had already provided liberation for his devotees, who need only realize it.
reincarnation
The belief that a person’s soul is reborn in another body after physical death. It is common in many Asian traditions — including Buddhism, Sikhism and Hinduism — as well as some Native American traditions. According to Hinduism and Buddhism, incarnation in the next life is determined by one’s previous actions. See karma.
Reverend, the
An attributive form of address given to many but not all ordained Christian and Buddhist clergy. Do not use this honorific form unless you are sure that the particular denomination accepts its use. Follow AP style of using the article the to precede the abbreviation Rev. Never use the Rev. Dr. together before a name. See religious titles for guidance.
rinpoche
Pronounced “RAHN-poh-shay.” Literally “precious one,” rinpoche is a title of respect for a Buddhist teacher, often signaling one considered to be an incarnate lama. The title of rinpoche generally follows a name, but practice varies, especially in the United States. Capitalize when used before or after a name. See lama and tulku.
roshi
Title for Zen Buddhist master, literally “old teacher.” It generally follows a name, but practice varies, especially in the United States. Capitalize when used before or after a name.
samsara
Pronounced “sahm-SAA-rah.” The cycle of birth, death and rebirth (and thus continual return to the suffering that constitutes human life). The fundamental goal of Buddhist practice is to be freed from samsara.
satori
Term in Zen Buddhism for the experience of awakening to the truth.
sensei
Title of teacher in a Zen Buddhist lineage, it refers to one who has received dharma transmission, or formal recognition of his or her awakening. Capitalize with a name. The title sensei generally follows a name, but practice varies, especially in the United States. Sensei is also a title in Japanese martial arts.
shunyata
Pronounced “SHOON-yuh-taa.” Emptiness, a key teaching in Mahayana Buddhism that all phenomena lack real and permanent substance.
Siddhartha Gautama
Pronounced “Sid-DHART-hah GAU-tuh-mah.” Name of the historical Buddha, also known as Shakyamuni (“sage of the Shakya clan”). Born to a wealthy ruling family between the sixth and fifth centuries B.C. in an area that is part of modern-day Nepal, he left the kingdom at age 29 after encountering the outside world of illness, old age and death beyond the palace walls, to find enlightenment and release from suffering. After years as a wandering ascetic, he awoke to the true nature of reality after meditating under a bodhi tree and spent the rest of his life passing on to others what he had realized. The title Buddha means awakened or enlightened one. Gautama did not teach that he was a god; as a historical figure, he is venerated in Buddhist tradition as a perfect teacher and ultimate authority. (“Lord Buddha” is a term of respect rather than a title of divinity.) See Buddha and Buddhism.
Soka Gakkai
“Value Creation Society,” a Japanese Buddhist group based on the teachings of the Nichiren school of Mahayana Buddhism. It holds the Lotus Sutra to be the only scripture needed for salvation, which is achieved by venerating and chanting its title.
Soka Gakkai International-USA
An American Buddhist association based on the teachings of the Nichiren school of Mahayana Buddhism. See Buddhism.
stupa
Burial mounds containing relics of the historical Buddha across the Indian subcontinent. Many were later developed into shrines or temple compounds.
sutra, sutta
Pronounced “SOO-trah” and “SUHT-ta.” In Buddhism, a sutra is a text containing the Buddha’s discourses. Sutras have been preserved in Sanskrit and Pali and in Chinese and Tibetan translations. The scriptures of Theravada Buddhism — the Pali canon, which are in the Pali language – include a collection of such texts, which are called suttas. They are subdivided into sections called Nikayas. These texts are said to have been transmitted from Ananda, the Buddha’s closest disciple. The schools of Mahayana Buddhism base their teachings on the interpretation of any of a number of other sutras originally written in Sanskrit. These are known by the Sanskrit term sutra. Individual Mahayana schools base their teaching on specific sutras.
swastika
Pronounced “SVA-stik-a.” It is one of the most popular symbols for Hindus, Jains and Buddhists. The word swastika is derived from Sanskrit words that mean “auspicious,” “luck” and “well-being.” It is also a sign of the Sun-God Surya and his generosity. The swastika is one of the 108 symbols of Lord Vishnu and represents the sun’s rays, without which there would be no life. The swastika is used in religious and civil ceremonies in India, both public and private. The swastika used by the Nazis was a perverted version of the ancient Hindu swastika.
T’ien-t’ai
An important Chinese Mahayana Buddhist school founded in the sixth century; the scripture on which it rests is a discourse of the Buddha known as the Lotus Sutra. The tradition was later brought to Japan, where it is known as Tendai.
taking refuge
In Buddhism, taking refuge is an important act of commitment in which a person proclaims his faith in the Three Jewels — Buddha, the dharma and the Sangha. See Three Jewels.
temple
A building used for worship or religious purposes. Uppercase when part of a formal name or when referring to the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. The word temple is used differently in different religious traditions. It is the place of worship for Hindus, Buddhists and Jews, although Orthodox Jews and many Conservative Jews believe the only temple is the one destroyed in Jerusalem and so they call their congregational buildings synagogues. In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, temples are sacred buildings with restricted access; they differ in purpose from meetinghouses, where weekly worship takes place.
Theravada
Pronounced “teh-ruh-VAA-dah.” One of the two main forms of Buddhism, it means “the way of the elders.” (The other is Mahayana.) Theravada is an early tradition directed to the monastic community. Its ideal is the arhat, the individual who attains enlightenment and thus escapes the cycle of rebirth through practices involving ethical conduct, meditation and insight. Its scriptures are those of the Pali canon, held to represent the earliest direct teachings of the Buddha. Theravada Buddhism is the form found in most of Southeast Asia (Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Laos). An adherent of the Theravada school is a Theravadin.
Three Jewels
In Buddhism, the three objects Buddhists take refuge in or give themselves to: the Buddha (both the historical Buddha and the Buddha-nature that is in every sentient being), the dharma (the Buddha’s teachings as well as universal law) and the Sangha (the monastic community as well as the wider community of Buddhists everywhere). See taking refuge.
Tipitaka
Pronounced “ti-PIH-tuh-kah.” The “Three Baskets,” or collections, of early Buddhist texts that make up the Pali canon, the scriptures of the Theravada school of Buddhism. The Vinaya Pitaka lists regulations for monks and nuns, the Sutta Pitaka consists of discourses from the historical Buddha or his disciples, and the Abhidhamma Pitaka presents a systematic organization of the teachings.
tulku
Pronounced “tül-koo.” In Tibetan Buddhism, an incarnate or reincarnated lama.
Vajrayana
Pronounced “vuh-jruh-YAA-nah.” Considered the third major tradition or “vehicle” of Buddhism, after Mahayana and Theravada. It is also called Tibetan Buddhism, Esoteric Buddhism or Tantric Buddhism (its scriptures are called tantras). Vajrayana literally means “diamond vehicle.” It developed from Mahayana Buddhism, particularly in Tibet, Nepal and Mongolia. Vajrayana Buddhists emphasize the use of ritual, meditative practices, mantras, mudras (symbolic gestures) and mandalas (symbolic diagrams in the form of a circle). Schools of Tibetan Buddhism include Nyingma, Kagyu, Sakya and Gelugpa, the order to which the dalai lamas belong. See Buddhism.
Venerable
Ordained monks and nuns in Theravada Buddhism are given the honorific Venerable before their names. In Roman Catholicism, the term is applied posthumously when a pope has approved the first stage in a person’s official cause for canonization, as in Venerable Fulton Sheen.  Also, in the Episcopal Church, archdeacons are addressed with the honorific the Venerable, as in the Venerable Jill Smith. See religious titles.
Vipassana
Pronounced “vih-PAHS-suh-nah.” In Theravada Buddhism, a profound, nonjudgmental self-awareness practiced in meditation. Often called insight meditation.
Vishnu
Pronounced “VISH-noo.” In Hinduism, the name used when God’s role as preserver is emphasized. Shiva is the name used when the emphasis is on God’s role as lord of time and change. Brahma is the name used for God when God’s role as creator of the universe is described. The divine is always understood to be one. For most Hindus, Vishnu is either equated with or a manifestation of Brahman. Vishnu has many avatars or incarnations, the best-known of which are Ram, Krishna and the Buddha. His consort is Lakshmi.
yoga
Most often associated with body poses, stretching exercises and breathing techniques developed in India. It is a Sanskrit term that means union; yoga is a discipline found in Hinduism. It is the philosophy, process, disciplines, and practices whose purpose is the unification of individual consciousness with transcendent or divine consciousness. One of its eight “limbs” is referred to as asana (also known as “hatha yoga”) and involves various body postures meant to keep the body physically relaxed and healthy as an important prerequisite for meditation.
Yogachara
A Mahayana Buddhist school whose followers practice yoga and meditation and whose focus is the teaching of shunyata (emptiness).
Zen Buddhism
A Mahayana Buddhist tradition that teaches enlightenment through meditation. It developed in China as Ch’an. Two major schools of Japanese Zen are the Rinzai school, which emphasizes koan practice, in which the student is given a traditional paradoxical sutra or story to consider (and, by having ultimately to transcend the logical use of mind, thereby is propelled into a direct encounter with reality beyond words), and the Soto school, whose primary practice is shikantaza (“just sitting” meditation, in which there is no object but simply a state of awareness).
zendo
In Zen Buddhist schools, a meditation hall.