All Is Change: The Two-Thousand-Year Journey of Buddhism to the West

Overview

In the tradition of Karen Armstrong, Jack Miles, andThomas Cahill comes a magisterial history of the coming of Buddhism tothe West.

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Overview

In the tradition of Karen Armstrong, Jack Miles, andThomas Cahill comes a magisterial history of the coming of Buddhism tothe West.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This hefty history of Buddhism in the West starts at the very beginning: combing through the works of ancient Greeks and proceeding from that time to find references to Western encounters with, or knowledge of, Buddhism in the East. Sutin, a teacher and author of biographies and memoirs, has set himself an ambitious and sometimes dusty task, querying Gnosticism, the missionary history of the Society of Jesus, Enlightenment thought and other currents of Western intellectual history, in his quest for the Buddha. Some of what he finds is fascinating, including the Jesus Messiah sutra, a 7th-century document that explains Christianity in Buddhist and Confucian terms. Other times what he considers Buddhist-influenced is a stretch that blurs distinctions: the mathematician Leibniz, for example, is roped into his analysis, but what Sutin cites shows the German philosopher to be an admirer of China, not necessarily of Buddhism. General readers may find this book ponderous, with lengthy quotes from source materials and occasional small side disquisitions about such matters as the racism behind the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. However, its comprehensiveness and depth will interest those in the field of Buddhist studies and others with patience to slog through it. (Aug.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This book is an important contribution to our understanding of the establishing of Buddhism in Europe and the Americas though one should not be misled into thinking that Buddhism has been in the process of gradually establishing itself in the West for the last 2000 years. Until 1800 or so, no systematic efforts were made to preach Buddhism to the West. Thus, the "journey" of Buddhism to the West is, in fact, only about 200 years old. Sutin (writing, Hamline Univ. and Vermont Coll.) acknowledges this in his book, which is devoted to the final 200 years of Buddhism's existence. Chapters cover the influence of Hegel and Heidegger, the effect of transcendentalism, and the role of the Dalai Lama. Thoroughly researched, intelligently presented, and supported by an excellent bibliography, this will best serve scholars of religious history as a reference and source book, but it will also appeal to interested casual readers. Recommended for all libraries. James F. DeRoche, Alexandria, VA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A leisurely survey of Buddhist encounters with the West, for better or worse. Much of the literature on that matter has come from Buddhists such as Thich Nhat Hanh and Catholics such as Thomas Merton. Sutin (Do What Thou Wilt: A Life of Aleister Crowley, 2000, etc.) professes no religious attachment, and his emphasis is historical rather than doctrinal. He begins with the age of Alexander the Great, when Greeks were exposed to Buddhist teachings during the short-lived conquest of northwestern India; Aristotle even asked Alexander to send a "gymnosophist" back to Greece for a conversation, though a Buddhist met a trio of Greek thinkers with the impatient remark, "It is impossible to explain philosophical doctrines through the medium of three interpreters who understand nothing we say any more than the vulgar; it is like asking water to flow through pure mud." Such incomprehension marked subsequent East-West encounters, though in time, Nestorian Christians would live alongside Buddhists in Asia, giving each a better idea of the other's beliefs. Sutin examines the controversial view that Buddhist thought influenced the Gnostics (and thus, perhaps, early Christianity), for which there is scant evidence for or against, before moving on to the better-documented travels of Christian missionaries in Asia; his narrative is peopled by memorable characters such as the Japanese Buddhist monk who converted to Catholicism only to denounce it, "making him an apostate, perhaps the first in world history, of both Buddhism and Christianity." Later, he provides a fine brief on the flim-flam artist who did much to introduce sort-of-Tibetan doctrine to the West, T. Lobsang Rampa. Sutin reaches familiarground when he turns to the influence of Buddhism on the American transcendentalists and, later, the Beats and their followers, more fluently chronicled in Rick Fields's How the Swans Came to the Lake (1992). Readers familiar with Merton and Suzuki will know most of this story. For others, though, this is a solid overview.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780316741569
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • Publication date: 8/30/2006
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 1.25 (d)

Read an Excerpt

All Is Change

The Two-Thousand-Year Journey of Buddhism to the West
By Lawrence Sutin

LITTLE, BROWN

Copyright © 2006 Lawrence Sutin
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-316-74156-6


Preface

It would hardly seem necessary to argue for the need to examine the history of relations between Buddhism and the West with great care. After all, it is a matter of reasonably broad consensus that Buddhism, in its many forms, offers the West remarkable teachings and practices that can be of vital use in the spheres of religion, philosophy, psychology, neurology and related cognitive sciences, and even politics.

How we came to know of Buddhism, the difficulties of that knowing, the means by which we continue to overcome those difficulties - these are the essential subjects of this book. I am indebted-as my notes and bibliography indicate-to the many excellent writers and scholars who have preceded me in these fields. What I have tried to do is to weave together, in a single narrative, an account more equally detailed in all of its parts than has yet appeared.

The majority of prior writings on this subject have been written either by Christians or Buddhists. I am neither. Indeed, I am not a formal, practicing religionist of any sort. I was raised in a secular Jewish family, and I believe in the value of all of the world's great religions-and many of the smaller ones as well. Goodpeople can be found in all religions, and they tend to resemble one another regardless of doctrinal differences. As relations between Christianity and Buddhism, in particular, are frequently alluded to in the text, I can only say, to allay any undue suspicions, that I am "rooting" for neither side, but rather for a world in which multifold religious perspectives are not only tolerated but also deemed essential for human well-being.

There have been many obstacles to the understanding of Buddhism in the West-language, geographical distance, religious and cultural differences, colonial and postcolonial politics. These are all examined herein, and I believe that all of them play an ongoing part in the difficulties that the West is continuing to experience in coming to terms with Buddhism. For all that Buddhism is here among us, its roots are yet shallow, and the development of a fully indigenous Western Buddhism is still a work in progress, to which I hope this book can contribute.

Readers are always astute at discerning for themselves the biases they believe a writer to possess. I accept the modern critique of metahistorians that absolute historical "objectivity" is impossible-that is, all historians create a narrative of their own, based on their own assessments and "emplotment" strategies. I do, however, continue to believe that a historian can and must exercise integrity. Let the reader judge if I have done so.

Just a few comments on language usage. I do not believe in the actual existence of monolithic separate entities that can be designated as "East" and "West." I use those terms because they are necessary shorthands, employed commonly by authors around the world, for certain vast cultural realms that have gradually come into ever greater contact. The term "Buddhism" is a relatively recent Western construct to refer to what had been known for more than two millennia in Asia as the teachings of the Buddha. It is well to remember that the filters of Western understanding of Buddhism are pervasive. I have found no consistent usage pattern, even among Buddhist writers, for "dharma" and "Dharma," and have chosen the latter out of a sense of respect and its parallel function to my use of "Gospel." The term "Sri Lanka" is employed rather than "Ceylon" except when the British colony and its functionaries are under specific discussion.

I have undertaken to provide a broad historical overview, based on the conviction that such an overview is badly needed. Length considerations have made it impossible for all of the developments of the present era-which themselves have been addressed in dozens of recent books-to be examined in the closing chapters. Further, although some background is given for the Buddhist teachings discussed herein, this book should not be regarded as an introduction to Buddhist thought and practice. I am not competent to teach the Dharma, and fortunately many good books with that intent already exist. I have written a history, not a spiritual guide. And history is quite difficult enough.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from All Is Change by Lawrence Sutin Copyright © 2006 by Lawrence Sutin. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

1 Buddhist India and the classical and early Christian West 1
2 Syncretism along the Silk Road 35
3 The Jesuit encounter with Buddhism 59
4 The "China craze" and the rise of the European orientalists 107
5 From Herder to Heidegger : the embedding of Buddhism in western philosophy 144
6 The rise of theosophy and the "great game" 171
7 Transcendentalists, Christian missionaries, and Asian Buddhist immigrants to America 202
8 Japanese Zen missions to the west 230
9 Forbidden Tibet : western explorations and fantasies 255
10 Buddhism takes root in the West : the Christian response and a hesitant ecumenism 274
11 Beat Zen and crazy wisdom 292
12 The Dalai Lama and the transformation of Buddhism in the west 318
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