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The New Buddhismsheds new light on this recent evolution of Buddhist practice in the West. After briefly recounting the beginnings and spread of Buddhism in the East, Coleman chronicles its reinterpretation by key Western teachers in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, ranging from the British poet Sir Edwin Arnold to the Beat writer Alan Watts. Turning to the contemporary scene, he finds that Western teachers have borrowed liberally from different Buddhist traditions that never intersect in their original contexts. Men and women practice together as equals; ceremonies and rituals are simpler, more direct, and not believed to have magical effects. Moreover, the new Buddhism has made the path of meditation and spiritual awakening available to everyone, not just an elite cadre of monks. Drawing on interviews with noted teachers and lay practitioners, as well as a survey completed by members of seven North American Buddhist centers, Coleman depicts the colorful variety of new Buddhists today, from dilettantes to devoted students and the dedicated teachers who guide their spiritual progress. He also details the problems that have arisen because of some Western influences—especially with regard to gender roles, sex, and power.
Exploring the appeal of this exotic faith in postmodern society and questioning its future in a global consumer culture, The New Buddhism provides a thorough and fascinating guide to Western Buddhism today.
About the Author:
James William Coleman is Professor of Sociology at the California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. A graduate of the University of California, Santa Barbara with a specialization in the sociology of religion, he has been a practicing Buddhist for the last 15 years.