At a crossroads: Buddhism in USA is facing a generation shift
Crosses still adorn one wall of this former Roman Catholic monastery, but a 6-foot golden Buddha now anchors the main room. The meditation hall, also used as a meeting space, is where the luminaries of Buddhism in the West recently gathered to debate.
The issue they were facing had been percolating for years on blogs, in Buddhist magazines and on the sidelines of spiritual retreats. It often played out as a clash of elders versus young people, the preservers of spiritual depth versus the alleged purveyors of “Buddhism-lite.” Organizers of the gathering wanted the finger-pointing to end. The future of American Buddhism was at stake, they said.
So on a sweltering day at the Garrison Institute, a Buddhist retreat overlooking the Hudson River, the baby boomers who had popularized the tradition in the West met with younger leaders to tackle their differences.
“How can those of us who were pioneers in the ’60s and ’70s, support them without getting in their way and let them know that they have our blessings and support?” said Jack Kornfield, a prominent Buddhist teacher who helped introduce mindfulness, or insight, meditation to the U.S. four decades ago.
Buddhism in America is at a crossroads. The best-known Buddhist leaders, mostly white converts who emerged from the counterculture and protest movements of the Vietnam era, are nearing retirement or dying. Charlotte Joko Beck, a pioneer of Zen practice in America, passed away in June.