Buddhism and the West : Subsequent to a Friendly Encounter

It is estimated that there are now more than 190,000 Buddhists in the United States. Most of these, however, are Americans of Chinese and Japanese origin who belong to the Pure Land Sect and are organized below the name The Buddhist Churches of America.1 The majority of these Churches, more than fifty in number, are largely in Hawaii and on the West Coast. The second biggest Japanese sect is Zen, the different groups of which consist of the First Zen Institute of America in New York City, the Planet Zen Center in Virginia and the Zen Mission Society in California. Amongst other Japanese groups are the San Francisco Nichiren Buddhist Church, the Chicago Jodo Mission, the Shingon Buddhist Church in Chicago and the Nichiren Shoshu of America (Soka Gakkai) in Los Angeles.

Even though Buddhism in the States is predominantly Mahayana and Theravada missions are smaller sized in number, the study of Theravada Buddhism has turn out to be increasingly popular amongst Americans of European origin. Theravada Buddhists are also united into societies, centres, groups and Viharas. There are “Friends of Buddhism” groups in such cities as Washington D.C., New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and San Francisco. The American Buddhist Academy in New York City and other Buddhist groups by distinct names and in various locations are also active in Buddhist study, propagation and, for a few organizations, education activities. According to the statistics offered in 2512/1969, there had been altogether about 254 Buddhist groups, centres, missions and societies, each Mahayana and Theravada, in the United States. Of these, about 84 had been in Hawaii, although the other 170 were on the American subcontinent.

Like the Mahayana groups, a quantity of Theravada centres in the United States are not American organizations but activities of Asian Buddhists. The Washington Buddhist Vihara homes a Theravada mission from Ceylon and it has a plan to establish centres in the key cities and train American monks to staff them. Thai Buddhists organized the Theravada Buddhist Center in North Hollywood in Los Angeles, which later became known as Wat Thai. Beginning with this initial Thai temple in America, there are now far more than a dozen of Thai temples in the States.

In Europe, whilst the Buddhist Society of Fantastic Britain is still the biggest Buddhist organization, a number of nearby associations have been founded in cities, towns and universities in numerous parts of many European countries. Sri Lankan Buddhists contribute to this development by assistance-ing their mission at the London Buddhist Vihara in England and the Dhammaduta Society (Buddhistisches Haus) in West Germany. Apart from the Buddhapadipa Temple in London, which was officially opened by his Majesty the King of Thailand on August 1, 2509/1966, Thai Buddhists have developed missions in some other components of Europe such as the Dham-masucharitanucharee Temple in Waalwijk in the Netherlands, which was later changed to Wat Buddharam, and the Vipassana Centre at Surrey in England.

In Australia, the Buddhist societies in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane are incorporated beneath the Buddhist Federation of Australia. Of these societies, the New South Wales Society at Sydney is noted for its most active work. A Thai Buddhist mission was invited to Melbourne in 2517/ 1974 and a Thai Buddhist Vihara known as Wat Buddharangsee was opened in Sydney in the latter part of the year 2518/1975.

Apart from books, booklets and pamphlets, Buddhist journals and periodicals have made a fantastic contribution to the spread of Buddhism internationally. A number of such publications issued by Buddhist groups and organizations in America, Europe and Asia have a planet-wide circu-lation. “Planet Buddhism”, printed in Sri Lanka, and the WFB News Bulletin distributed from the WFB headquarters in Bangkok are almost certainly the ideal recognized and most extensively read Buddhist monthly periodicals. Other publications include the Vesak Sirisara, the Buddhist annual of the Sri Saddharmadana Samitiya in Sri Lanka Visakha Puja, the annual publication of the Buddhist Association of Thailand The Middle Way and the Friendly Way, quarterlies of the Buddhist Society and the Buddhapadipa Temple in London respectively The Maha Bodhi Journal of the Maha Bodhi Society Voice of Buddhism of the Buddhist Missionary Society in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia “Metta,” the journal of the Buddhist Federation of Australia and The Golden Lotus, mimeographed magazine published in Philadelphia. It would not be practicable to name right here all the Buddhist journals and periodicals issued in the numerous countries. In the United States alone, twenty-3 Buddhist bulletins, newsletters, monthly magazines and annuals have been on the list in 2512/1969.