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Description of “Buddhism in America” by Seager

This section covers the first seven chapters of the book “Buddhism in America”. The author starts by giving background information concerning the American Buddhist landscape where he explores the different rituals associated with this religion in the US. The second chapter highlights the rudimentary basics of Buddhism including the teachings of Buddha and the formation of the Sangha among other fundamental practices. In the third chapter, Seager (1999) discusses the three broad traditions that have been used to structure Buddhist thought and practice since its emergence including Theravada – the way of elders, Mahayana – the great vehicle, and Vajrayana – the diamond vehicle. Chapter four focuses on the adoption of Buddhism in the American setting, specifically the spread of the different indigenous and new forms of this religion by mainly highlighting the indigenization of dharma.

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In the fifth chapter, the author discusses Jodo Shinshu, which is one of the major traditions associated with American Buddhism in what he calls America’s Old-line Buddhists. This tradition has taken over a century to be adopted and mainstreamed in the country. Chapter six is a continuation of the various traditions whereby the author delves into Soka Gakkai under the banner of Soka Gakkai International-USA (SGI-USA) and its Nicherian humanism after it emerged in Japan. One notable argument in this chapter is that over the last 50 years, the Americanization of Nicherian Buddhism “has been deeply influenced by tensions between a highly traditional Nichiren priesthood and the innovative spirit of the laity” (Seager, 1999, p. 70). In chapter seven, the author talks about the concept of Zen and its pioneer institutions in the US such as the Cambridge Buddhist Association in Massachusetts and Shasta Abbey in northern California.

This section is a report on the last seven chapters of the book. Chapter eight is about the Tibetan milieu and how this tradition has been adopted into the American culture, especially after the Chinese occupied Tibet in 1950 thus forcing many locals, including Dalai Lama, to go into exile in various parts of the world. In chapter nine, Seager focuses on the Theravada spectrum to highlighting its origins in 1893 and how its practices were ultimately localized in the US with the establishment of the Buddhist Vihara Society (the first Theravada temple in the US) in Washington in 1966. Chapter ten is a collection of other Pacific Rim migrations, with a specific focus on how immigration contributed significantly to the spread of Buddhism in the US. The formation of the Buddhist Association of the United States (BAUS) in 1964 was a major step towards the Americanization of this religion in the country.

The last part of the book discusses selected issues surrounding American Buddhism. One such issue is gender equity as addressed in chapter eleven whereby Seager talks about how the adaptation of the dharma in the US evolved to accommodate both genders, specifically due to provisions in the American law, which promotes equality. Another selected issue as discussed in chapter twelve is the idea of socially engaged Buddhism, which is “usually used to refer to the application of the dharma to social issues in a more comprehensive fashion than religious charity or philanthropy, one that seeks to redirect the personal quest for transcendence to the collective transformation of society” (Seager, 1999, p. 201). In chapters thirteen and fourteen, the author discusses intra-Buddhist and interreligious dialogue and making some sense of Americanization, respectively.


Seager, R. H. (1999). Buddhism in America. Columbia University Press.

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