Before now I have said that there is no such thing as American Buddhism. It has in part been fun to annoy people who think that there is. Arguing the point is – obviously, I think – foolish.
One the one hand it is clear that there is lots of Buddhism in America, and has been for many decades – since about the time of the goldrush, it would seem. And the variety is huge.
On the other hand, it is equally clear that there is no one school or organisation that could claim to speak for even a high proportion of American Buddhists, let alone all of them.
I have never been to America, so I cannot speak from first hand experience, but for reasons that don’t concern this post I did sign up to watch some of the “Tricycle / BuddhaFest Online International Buddhist Film Festival”. It had a quite unique flavour, reflecting as it does the trend that has sometimes been given, or even claimed, the title “American Buddhism”. For detail, of course, you can look at Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhism_in_the_United_States.
First, I want to acknowledge the positive: some of the films contained beautiful images, and some were both interesting and informative. Most, however, were films for their respective enthusiasts: “Zen and the West”, “Bon and the West”, “Precious Guru” for the Nyingma-leaning Tibetophiles (like me), “Music Monks” depicting the struggle to reconstitute and re-establish musical tradition in a Chinese Monastery, “The Geshema is Born” telling of the struggle to get a proper, high-level Buddhist intellectual training for nuns. And more.
But – and here anyone is welcome to argue that this is just a sign of what a negative person I am – I felt that I was essentially eating white bread, with little smears of margarine or jam. I offer you, without any criticism of the content at all, the titles of some of what are advertised as “wisdom talks”: “Mindfulness to Heal Ourselves and the World”, “Evolving Compassion in Times of Crisis”, “The Art of Solitude”, “Finding Calm and Contentment in Turbulent Times”. All very nice, all very worthy, generally given by people who have been “on the scene” for many years and who may very well be much more informed than I am.
I am not, I hope it is clear, for a moment suggesting that it would not be a good idea to be more mindful, more compassionate, more able to accept ourselves and find contentment. The world would probably be much better if those attitudes were more highly valued and more widely cultivated.
So what is my problem? It’s probably better expressed by the spoof-spiritual videos of people like JP Sears than by words of mine. https://youtu.be/9FEOFB3m2m8
Come back, Dudjom Lingpa, all is forgiven!