A Dharma Melting Pot

Something special is happening among American Buddhists. They're interacting, arguing, and creating a unique kind of Buddhism.

A genuine Western Buddhism is now being born, according to Joseph Goldstein, co-founder of Insight Meditation and one of America's most respected Buddhist teachers. The birth pangs include controversy and conflict--and fear that genuine teachings may vanish as traditions converge in a "dharma melting pot" of American practice. But Goldstein believes there is a potential for the essence of Buddhism to actually flourish in the West, particularly in the United States.

Goldstein recently talked with Beliefnet about his latest book, One Dharma.

Why is this movement, an emerging Western Buddhism, coming to light now?

Something unique is happening in the last 20 to 30 years, especially in America. So many different Buddhist traditions have come here and practitioners are interacting with each other in ways that haven't happened in 1,500 years. In Asia, the traditions are isolated from each other. If you go to Thailand and ask a Thai monk about Tibetan Buddhism, it's very unlikely he would know anything about it.


But with globalization such a factor in the world, isn't there any of that cross-fertilization happening in Asia?

Not as much as here. Here, people can practice with teachers in different traditions. So it goes beyond the study aspect. In a country like Burma, Thailand, or Tibet there are very few practitioners of the other traditions. But here, in a way, it's become like a great dharma melting pot and some very interesting questions arise from that.

Why is the United States a richer dharma melting pot than, say, Western Europe?

Well, this is also happening in Western Europe, but my sense is that the nature of American society is very fluid, very open, and not so tradition-bound. There is a lot of experimentation and inquiry that goes on here that is part of our culture, even more than in Western Europe.

What are the controversies that arise as a result of this weaving together of various strands of Buddhism?

The most basic question is, Is it a good idea? There's the fear, and I think it's a consideration worth having, about whether something gets lost if we do this. Does the integrity of a tradition get lost if you mix it with other traditions? Does it become a thin soup rather than an enriched soup?

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