The Existential Buddhist|dharma without dogma

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It’s ended up being commonplace to talk thoughtlessly about 2 American Buddhisms (an expression credited to famous Buddhologist Charles Prebish), one frequently referred to as “convert” or “white” Buddhism, and the other as “heritage,” “birthright,” “immigrant” or“Asian American” Buddhism According to this simple dichotomy, “convert” Buddhists are primarily older, affluent, European- descent Buddhists who matured in non-Buddhist homes. “Heritage” Buddhists, on the other hand, are Asian Americans raised within Buddhist homes. According to this dichotomy, transform Buddhists practice meditation and research study Buddhist viewpoint, whereas heritage Buddhists make offerings and burn incense for the Buddha and their forefathers, and take part in routines and shouting. Heritage sanghas likewise serve essential social and neighborhood functions for immigrant households whose English might be a 2nd language, and involvement within them is frequently a household affair, in manner ins which transform involvement frequently is not. Convert Buddhism all-too-often smugly presumes its Buddhism is “authentic” Buddhism, whereas heritage Buddhists are bogged down in superstitious practices showing their ethnic culture of origin instead of the Buddha’s sutras and suttas.

In her illuminating brand-new book, Be the Refuge: Raising the Voices of Asian American Buddhists (North Atlantic Books, 2021), author Chenxing Han presents us to all the subtleties and intricacies of being a young Asian American Buddhist in America today, and demonstrates how insufficient, deceptive, and hazardous the simple dichotomy of 2 American Buddhisms can be. Han bases her book on her own individual journey in addition to 89 substantial interviews she carried out with a varied group of young Asian American Buddhists about their Buddhist identity and experiences as part of satisfying the requirements for her master’s thesis at the Institute of Buddhist Studies.

The intricacies of the young Asian American Buddhist experience can be overwhelming. While the so-called “convert” Buddhist neighborhoods are frequently extremely white, they likewise have Asian American members who might be converts (having actually matured in Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, or atheist households), or who might be practicing a various school of Buddhism than the one they were raised in. They likewise might consist of a smaller sized variety of non-convert European- descent white Buddhists who were raised within Buddhist or mixed-religion households.In the exact same method, numerous so-called “heritage” Buddhist sanghas likewise have white transform members who take part in their churchgoers. In addition, there are numerous Asian Americans who matured in mixed-race, mixed-ethnicity, and/or mixed-religion homes (or wed into them) that defy and go beyond any of these classifications.

Chenxing Han reveals that numerous young Asian American Buddhists discover themselves in a unpleasant and unclear circumstance. Their moms and dads might have participated in Buddhist spiritual practices without discussing their significance, or performed them in a language their kids did not comprehend. Second- and third-generation Asian Americans can be in the ambivalent position of both cheapening their moms and dads’ methods as “old world” and “superstitious,” while all at once experiencing a fond memories for it, and a desire not to break the thread of household custom. Even when attempting to follow household custom, they can be filled with unpredictability and stress and anxiety over potentially not continuing these just partially-transmitted customs in precisely the appropriate method.

Another issue is that numerous heritage Buddhist sanghas might be consisted of primarily “Sunday school” kids and their grandparents and moms and dads, with a lack of young people in their 20s and 30s. These sanghas frequently perform their services in languages second-, 3rd-, and later on generation immigrants can no longer comprehend or speak. This produces barriers that prevent young person Asian Americans from connecting with these sanghas, however the all-or-mostly white transform sanghas likewise do not feel especially inviting. Asian American visitors to all-white sanghas nearly undoubtedly need to handle the bias and incorrect presumptions white sangha members make about them. It is frequently presumed, for instance, that Buddhism is their household of origin faith, or white members will ask “where they are from.” In addition, transform Buddhist publications hardly ever function Asian American instructors, and frequently remove the long existence of Asian American Buddhism in America, as if American Buddhism was the exclusively the item of white leaders (and their Asian instructors) who developed the very first primarily white transform sanghas.

There can likewise be strong pressure on Asian Americans to “become more American,” to mix in, and to not draw in attention by being various. Their Asian physical functions currently mark them as various, and being a “Buddhist” ends up being simply another method they do not fit in with their white American peers at school and at work. Dropping a Buddhist recognition and ending up being Christian is one method to suit much better. In addition, numerous Asian American immigrant neighborhoods concerned America as currently mainly Christian neighborhoods, consisting of numerous Korean, Vietnamese, and Filipino neighborhoods. Within those neighborhoods, ending up being a transform Buddhist brings none of the social prestige that Buddhism brings for numerous white European- descent converts who originate from neighborhoods where their peers may think about Buddhism to be “cool” and “evolved.”

Chenxing Han likewise resolves the fascinating concern of what it indicates to be a “convert” Buddhist in the very first location, as “conversion” is not actually a Buddhist thing. She recommends that “becoming a Buddhist” is a little like soaking a cup of tea. How long does the warm water need to high prior to it is “officially” tea? Becoming “Buddhist” is similar. It can be a progressive procedure over an extended period of time, and is frequently not an all-on-none affair, as numerous American Buddhist specialists, white and Asian American, wind up with hybrid identities.

Since numerous heritage Buddhist Sanghas came from to fulfill the requirements of ethnic immigrant neighborhoods, there are manner ins which they continue to serve the particular and special requirements of Japanese, Chinese, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, Korean, Filipino, Tibetan, Nepalese, Cambodian, Lao, Thai, Burmese, Sinhalese, and other Asian immigrant neighborhoods. Pan-Asian American sanghas, to the level they exist, are uncommon. Convert Buddhist sanghas, on the other hand, tend to be primarily English- language sanghas that serve the requirements of acculturated (all-too-often significance “white”) Americans in basic, and do not deal with the requirements of any particular ethnic group. As heritage sanghas age without more recent immigrants showing up in multitudes, there is a propensity for these sanghas to diminish in subscription. Heritage sanghas might feel an immediate requirement to cater more to second-, 3rd-, 4th-, 5th-, and sixth-generation Asian Americans whose requirements are rather various from the initial neighborhoods they were developed to serve. There is likewise pressure on these sanghas to connect to members of other ethnic backgrounds, to end up being more universalistic and inclusive, and to use more of their services inEnglish Something is lost and gotten while doing so, and it’s not unusual for more youthful members of these neighborhoods to feel ambivalent about these modifications.

It is amazing reality that while Asian Americans comprise two-thirds of the U.S. Buddhist population, it is difficult for numerous white American Buddhists (and even Asian American Buddhists) to call even a single significant Asian American Buddhist spiritual figure. In reality, it might even be simpler for white American Buddhists to call popular African American Buddhist figures than it is for them to call popular Asian American Buddhist ones. It is difficult to represent this nearly total erasure of the Asian American Buddhist neighborhood in the minds of numerous or most transform white Buddhists without believing in regards to white opportunity and unconscious bigotry. When Asian American Buddhists madly oppose their erasure by “mainstream” Buddhist publications, their grievances have actually frequently been met incomprehension, dismissiveness, defensiveness, and anger. Ann Gleig has actually just recently been explaining there are white, cis-gender, male, conservative online Buddhist neighborhoods that are unsympathetic, if not hostile, to the distress of left out, marginalized, or demeaned neighborhoods. Sometimes, it appears, the bigotry isn’t unconscious at all, however outright and in-one’s- face.

Chenxing Han composes that her manuscript was decreased by mainstream Buddhist publishing homes, in addition to by scholastic presses. We need to be grateful that North Atlantic Books, an independent, non-profit press, acknowledged its worth and ended up being the place for its publication. We need to likewise be grateful that Chenxing Han selected to not compose the type of book that would attract scholastic presses. Her book is easily available to all readers, and her writing is individual, intimate, and immediate. Her informants are not simply research study topics, however frequently end up being individual pals, and essential figures in her own development. She owes a fantastic financial obligation, for instance, to Aaron Lee, AKA, “arunlikati,” the developer of the Angry Asian Buddhist blog site. Aaron’s life, composing, relationship, assistance, and unforeseen death play a significant function in Han’s own individual journey, development, and advancement. We learn more about him as she did, and her writing is a living testimony and homage to his contributions to the Buddhist neighborhood.

As a side note, the stories informed by Chenxing Han’s Asian American informants resonated with my own extremely various story. I plainly fit nicely into the standard transform Buddhist classification. I am an older, white, Ashkenazi Jew, and wasn’t born into a Buddhist household. Nevertheless, my maternal great-grandparents and paternal grandparents were immigrants. They understood what it resembled to deal with discrimination for being immigrants and for beingJewish They frequently spoke to their brother or sisters in Yiddish, a language I just comprehended in pieces and bits. While my maternal grandparents lit shabbat candle lights, went to temple, and kept kosher– my dad was a closet atheist, and after my mom passed, preserved none of the Jewish customs. I might recall at my grandparents’ faith with fond memories, however could not make it my own. My moms and dads took a look at orthodox Jewish faith as primarily bubbe-meises— old partners tales and superstitious notions. When I discovered my method to Buddhism midway through life, it was mainly through instructors from Jewish and half-Jewish origins– instructors like Joseph Goldstein, Sharon Salzberg, Larry Rosenberg, Sylvia Boorstein, andToni Packer Their backgrounds made it feel safe for me to roam onto what may have otherwise seemed like alien area. I question if I would have ever found Buddhism if it had not been through instructors I might relate to since they remained in some method “like me.” Representation, in reality, matters. In by doing this, I can relate to the parallel however various battles of Asian American Buddhists to end up being American and “modern” without losing their identities and braking with household customs, and to discover locations of belonging in neighborhoods with a minimum of some members who appear like themselves and comprehend their journeys.

Be the Refuge exposes the surprise stories of young Asian American Buddhists, enabling them to inform their stories in their own voices. It makes a significant contribution to the long-lasting task of weakening the folklore of 2 Buddhisms, blazing a trail to an inclusive and pluralistic American Buddhism that appreciates the variety of our methods of practice while likewise acknowledging their basic underlying commonness.



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The Existential Buddhist | dharma without dogma

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About seven years ago, my wife and I visited the Kit Carson Home and Museum in Taos, New Mexico. We hadn’t gone to Taos intending to visit the museum.  We had gone there to see the famed Taos Pueblo, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site— but when we saw the museum in town, we thought we would drop by. At that point, Kit Carson was just a name to me like Bat Masterson, Davy Crocket, Billy the Kid, and Wyatt Earp—one of the legends of the wild west one might read about in a dime novels or see in old black-and-white Saturday matinee movies. His story, however, is a bit more complicated.

While at the museum I bought a copy of Hampton Sides’ Blood and Thunder—a biography of Carson.  What I learned is that Carson was one of those astonishing 19th Century American figures who were larger than life.  You get the same feeling when you read the biographies of Ulysses Simpson Grant, or Theodore Roosevelt, or Frederick Douglass—how could people such as these have really walked the earth?  It seems we have no one quite like them today. At any rate, Carson’s courage, endurance, competence, and steadfastness could have qualified him, like Achilles, to be the hero of his own Homeric epic.

There was, alas, also an ironic aspect to his life. As a frontiersman, fur trapper, mountain man, and scout, he loved the wilderness, and was more at home with the ways of the Native American peoples than he was with the white settlers who brought the corruption of their civilization along with them.  His first wife was an Arapaho woman named Singing Grass who died in childbirth. His second wife was a Cheyenne woman named Making Out Road who divorced him the Cheyenne way by dumping his belongings outside their tent. Despite his sympathy for Native American life, however, he was a military man who believed in following orders, and he became the general who brutally defeated the Navajo and Apache nations, herding them off their ancestral lands to an area no white man could possibly want at Bosque Redondo Reservation. Unlike the vainglorious General George Custer, Kit Carson was humble and competent. If you gave him a job to do, he did it. Many Navajo starved during his brutal roundup at Canyon de Chelly, or died on the long walk to Bosco Redondo, or sickened and starved after arriving at the barren reservation. Carson was put in charge of managing Bosque Redondo, but eventually quit in disgust.  He did not approve of the way the United States government was handling its responsibilities to these defeated peoples.

History’s judgment of Carson has been mixed. He is both a hero and a villain—perhaps a bit of both. Carson himself seemed cannily aware of how history might judge him. On the wall of the museum is a sign with a saying of his—he couldn’t have written it because he couldn’t read or write—a saying which best summarizes his life.  The sign reads, “I don’t know if I did right or wrong, but I always did my best.”

I’ve thought of that sign often over the past seven years.  There is something very Zen about it.  We never know all the long term and broader consequences of our actions in advance. We might succeed in helping someone, but in the process  inadvertently end up hurting someone else. We might do something that helps in the short run, but ends up hurting in the long run. Every solution to a problem ends up creating new problems. Look how the Internet, which was supposed to bring us all together has ended up dividing us worse than ever. We can’t ultimately know whether things will, everything considered, turn out right or wrong. We can only do our best.  It’s a real accomplishment if we can say that, no matter what, we always did our best as we understood it at the time.

Shunryu Suzuki Roshi said something similar about Zen. He said, “Zen is making your best effort on each moment, forever.” Anyone else might have said “in the moment,” but Suzuki Roshi’s Japanese-inflected English made it “on the moment”— the way a singer lands “on a note,” neither flat nor sharp.  Being “on the moment” seems different from being “in the moment,” a phrase that suggests something improvisatory and on the fly. “On the moment,” is more like Aristotle’s “hitting the mark,” that is, doing the right thing in the right way at the right time.

So, what does it mean to make our best effort on each moment during sesshin?

Should we sit as if our hair was on fire—or is zazen “the Dharma gate of bliss and repose?”

Dogen Zenji said both.

That reminds me of an old joke about a rabbi who listens to the complaints of a squabbling marital couple. He listens first to the husband’s side and says, “You’re right.”  He listens next to the wife, and says “you’re right.”  The rabbi’s student, who has been sitting in the corner listening to all this, turns to the rabbi and says, “but Rabbi, they both can’t be right.”  The rabbi replies, “You know what? You’re right too!”

So, do we practice with our hair on fire, or do we enjoy the Dharma gate of bliss and repose?  It seems to me, there are moments during every sesshin when one or the other seem to be  appropriate.  But how do we know on any given moment whether we ought to be striving harder, or relaxing into way things are?

The sayings of the great teachers can illuminate certain moments, but we can’t allow ourselves to be limited by them. They can only take us so far. We must always be the ones who decide for ourselves what practice is for us on each moment.  Suzuki Roshi said, “You cannot say Buddhism was completed by Dogen Zenji. If you think it was, the Shobogenzo becomes like a coffee shop on the freeway. Dogen will be very angry if you stay there.”

Toni Packer’s The Light of Discovery contains an illuminating conversation with Joan Tollifson. Joan, as you may know, is a non-dual teacher who is not affiliated with any tradition.  She spent several years residing at Toni Packer’s Springwater Center for Meditative Inquiry.  Toni, as you may know, was a Dharma heir to Phillip Kapleau Roshi, who, inspired by Krishnamurti, eventually dropped the designation “Zen Buddhist teacher,” to become just a “Zen teacher,” and then later dropped both the “Zen” and the “teacher” to become just “Toni.”  I had the good fortune to be on a number of retreats with Toni, and consider her one of my most important teachers.

Anyway, in that illuminating conversation, Joan asks Toni, “If I want to see through these ideas that I’m creating and arrive at this more open and spacious place, what should I do?”

And Toni replies, “Can we start where we are and not attempt to get someplace? That is another idea, the idea of “an open space.” What is going on right now? Does wanting to be in an open place arise because one has heard about an open place and is feeling closed up inside? Can there be an immediate listening to where we are now—wanting open spaces—and also hear the birds singing at the same time, the breathing that is going on? We get caught up with the idea of where we want to be and are oblivious to what is actually going on right now.”

What we should be doing in sesshin is just that.

Being aware of what is actually happening right now.

On any moment, we are doing one of two things—thinking or being aware. Thinking includes every project you think you are doing here. Becoming concentrated, becoming enlightened, becoming peaceful.  These are all just thoughts. These are all ego-centered plans.  Is it possible to just see them? This doesn’t mean the ego-centered plans disappear.  It means that when they appear, we see them as “thought,” and see them occurring in a larger space.  And if that larger space isn’t here, we see the yearning for that larger space that isn’t present.

Let me say a word about that larger space. A few weeks ago I heard Jon Kabat-Zinn suggest that we envision thinking as the waves on top of the ocean, but the ocean itself is vast, deep, and still and undisturbed by the waves. Our motives to be someplace other than where we are now are like tiny trails of bubbles appearing and disappearing in the ocean’s depths. They aren’t a problem. They are just there, along with everything else.

Jon’s ocean metaphor is like Dogen’s idea of enlightenment occurring together with delusion—delusion isn’t excluded from enlightenment—enlightenment contains both enlightenment and non-enlightenment—they are not two. Jon’s ocean metaphor is a lovely metaphor for the kind of vast openness we may at times experience. But don’t be fooled into thinking that’s where you should try to be, or where you should be. We are always just where we are. The hardest part of sesshin is being just where you are, even if you wish it otherwise.

We are invited to stay here with what is, whatever appears.

Sometimes this is openness, spaciousness, and clarity. Sometimes it is lifelessness and boredom. Sometimes it is agony and despair.

We endlessly abandon all of our plans and projects and open to what life is for us right now.

But, there is one plan and project we do not abandon. We give ourselves over completely to the form of sesshin.  Just do it, just follow it.  Or we fight the form every inch of the way.  Whatever we do, we are giving ourselves over to the form or fighting the form.  Everything is grist for the mill. We each get through sesshin however we can.  As Dogen said in his Extensive Record, “There is the principle of the Way that we must make one mistake after another.” So we do our zazen wrong.  Is there any other way to do it?

The most fundamental element of sesshin is trust. Trust in the process. Trust that you don’t do zazen, zazen does you. Trust that if you give yourself over fully to the form, there will be benefit. Trust that, paraphrasing the Rolling Stones, you may not be able to get the sesshin you want, you will get the sesshin you need.

Every sesshin I have been on has been different.  Some have been filled with moments of blissful illumination, some have not.  Some have been relentless struggle. I know what it is like to be greedy for blissful moments, but being greedy for them only shows you your own greed.  Blissful moments either come, or they don’t. That’s all we can say.

But I think it’s fair to say that the sesshins that have proved most valuable have not necessarily been the ones marked by great openings, but one’s in which I have more clearly seen my own crap. Because, that’s much of what goes on, isn’t it?  My wants, my fantasies, my plans, my strivings, my hopes, my greed, my anger, my doubts, my anxieties, my pain, my deficiencies, my ignorance, my monkey mind?  The whole melodrama of me-ness.  We want so much to get to that other shore—the place of attainment, enlightenment, bliss, wisdom, and compassion.  We think that shore is some other place, and not this place right here. We think that when we finally arrive there, we will no longer have any stink about us.

And here and there, there are moments that come—or they don’t. One’s in which we intuit a wholeness that includes everything we have been trying so hard to rid ourselves of but never quite can. A place of great openness, acceptance, equanimity, and love.

And then its gone. But it’s never really gone. That experience has already changed you. You are already different for having experienced it. Not greatly different. Not entirely different. But different still.  And how can something be gone when it’s always right here?

So, I don’t know If you are doing your practice right or wrong, but I encourage you, like Kit Carson, to do your best, however you understand the word “best,” on each moment, knowing also that the meaning of “best” changes from moment to moment.

I will leave you with a story about a former patient of mine from a long time ago when I was teaching meditation to patients in a psychiatric hospital. The patient was in hospital because she was struggling with many significant problems we needn’t go into here. She came regularly to my weekly meditation group. The meditation group was open to inpatients, partial hospital patients, and intensive outpatients, so people could potentially attend over a long periods of time—and this was especially true for patients like her who cycled through several inpatient admissions interspersed with partial hospitalizations and intensive outpatient treatment. At any rate, while the patient was hospitalized, the patient’s adult daughter was murdered. The patient asked, at the beginning of the meditation group, whether she ought to focus on her breath to keep the pain of the loss of her daughter at bay, or whether she should she open to the pain and just be present with it.  She already knew from past meditation experience that “just being present with it” did not mean ruminating about it and making it worse.

I asked her, “If you could imagine you had an inner wise friend, what would that wise friend advise you to do?” She replied, “focus on my breath,” and did so for the next few meditation sessions.  After a few weeks she said, “now I am ready to be with my pain,” and she was able to do so in a way that turned out productive for her.

Each of us has this same capacity to be our own wise friend. Maybe that is what we mean by saying we each have Buddha-nature.  It is the mental capacity psychologist Marsha Linehan calls, “wise mind.”

Whenever you are unsure of how you ought to be doing zazen, consult your wise friend. You won’t necessarily make the right or the wrong choice, but you will be doing your best.

My wise friend usually asks a question rather than providing me with an answer.  It asks, “what does ‘being fully present’ mean for you right now?”

Please do your best!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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The Existential Buddhist | dharma without dogma

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William James may have been the first psychologist to take an interest in Buddhism, but he certainly was not the last. In Prescribing the Dharma: Psychotherapists, Buddhist Traditions, and Defining Religion (University of North Carolina Press, 2019), psychotherapist and religious studies scholar Ira Helderman explores the history and current status of the ongoing relationship between the American psychotherapeutic community and Buddhist traditions—at least the Buddhist traditions as transmitted by Asian modernizers and as practiced within predominantly European-descent Buddhist “convert” communities. His approach is based both on a participant-observer ethnological analysis (he attends professional psychological conferences devoted to Buddhist themes and interviews presenters and attendees) and on textual analyses of the writings of major figures, living and historical, who have played key roles in the unfolding relationship between Buddhism and Western psychology.

His is not a straightforward story either of the secularization, subversion, and cultural appropriation of Buddhist tradition by therapists, or of the stealth transmission of Buddhist ideas into American culture. As Helderman points out, “psychotherapy” and “Buddhism” are socially constructed categories and, therefore, are not entities that can engage in dialogue. There are only individual clinicians making pragmatic decisions about how to treat individual clients while negotiating the boundaries set by organizations and agencies that police their profession and responding to the influences of multiple impinging historical and cultural forces and professional imperatives. These clinicians often occupy multiple and somewhat conflicting roles as scientists, healers, and religious practitioners. They need to negotiate a variety of socially constructed categories that necessarily inform their decisions, including the definitional categories of religion, secularity, spirituality, science, medicine, and therapy, and what the relationship between these categories ought to be. They also need to consider the essential aims of both therapy and Buddhist practice—whether they are consonant or disparate—and their relationship to more broadly construed conceptions of “wellness” and “the good life.”

Helderman defines six major approaches clinicians take with regard to Buddhism: therapizing, filtering, translating, personalizing, adopting, and integrating. In the chapters that follow the introductory chapters, Helderman examines each of these approaches and the work of psychotherapists who typify each approach. At the same time, he is clear that these approaches are not pure types and that the clinicians he reads and talks to often adopt multiple and, at times, conflicting approaches, sometimes emphasizing different approaches depending on the audience they are addressing. Therapizing means explicating Buddhism in the language of psychological discourse, as when Franz Alexander explicates the goal of Buddhist practice as a narcissistic rechanneling of libidinal energies away from the external world and onto the self. Filtering involves picking and choosing Buddhist ideas according to how consonant they are with modern Western science. Therapizers and filterers both view psychology and science as the final arbiters of truth. Translating involves restating Buddhist practices in biomedical terms, as when meditation is described as “attentional training practice” or “the relaxation response.” Personalizing involves a private personal commitment to Buddhism, while keeping it in a separate silo from one’s clinical practice. Adopting means reformulating psychotherapy in Buddhist terms. Adopters see Buddhism as the final arbiter of truth. Finally, integrating involves finding ways Buddhist and psychotherapeutic ideas can mutually assimilate and accommodate to each other, where neither is seen as being necessarily privileged over the other. As Helderman reviews these approaches, he explores the work of such clinicians and theorists as Carl Jung, Franz Alexander, Abraham Maslow, Erich Fromm, Karen Horney, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Jeffrey Rubin, Polly Young-Eisendrath, Barry Magid, Steve Hayes, Mark Epstein, Marsha Linehan, Paul Cooper, Harvey Aronson, Paul Fulton, Jack Engler, Jack Kornfeld, Joseph Loizzo, Pilar Jennings, Jan Surrey, Jeremy Safran, Christopher Germer, Gay Watson, Karen Kissel Wegela, Ken Wilber, and others.

Many of the clinicians described are unhappy with the conventional boundaries of what constitutes religion and what constitutes secularity. They often try to redefine the terms or blur their boundaries, but their influence is inescapable. Helderman explains this is the case because of the pervasive influence of training and certification authorities, third-party payors, hospital accreditation organizations, first amendment considerations, and malpractice case law; the long cultural history of how ideas are transmitted to us; clinicians’ self-identifications with their own therapeutic lineages and the internalization of their norms; and religious scholars’ critiques, which, for clinicians, often help define the authenticity of their understandings of Buddhist teachings. Helderman argues that the boundaries clinicians redraw between what is religious, secular, spiritual, medical, and psychotherapeutic are inherently unstable and riddled with internal inconsistencies, and thus subject to constant critique and revision.

Helderman views clinicians’ relationship with Buddhism against the larger background of what Eugene Taylor has called psychology’s “shadow culture” (Shadow Culture: Psychology and Spirituality in America [1999]). While American psychology is often trifurcated into the three twentieth-century mainstreams of psychoanalysis, behaviorism, and humanistic psychology, Taylor described a “fourth stream” of alternative healing methods from Swedenborgianism, homeopathy, mesmerism, Christian Science, and New Thought, down to today’s mindfulness. Taylor described how this fourth stream periodically emerges, is repressed, and then makes an inevitable return because the division between scientific/medical and religious/spiritual aspects of healing is always unstable. Are Buddhist-oriented psychologists mixing science and religion? Or if psychotherapy is a substitute for the religious dimension of life in a secularized age, are therapists really mixing two different types of spiritual traditions? Psychotherapists have always occupied a kind of liminal space between science, art, medicine, and spirituality, and Buddhism—or at least Western Buddhist modernism—can be seen as the newest import into this space.

Helderman is primarily a religious studies scholar, and he makes good use of both religious studies broadly considered and modern Buddhist scholarship in particular. One theme he revisits a number of times is the degree to which modern Western psychotherapists’ usage and understanding of Buddhism can be compared to the process of sinicization and the way the medieval Chinese understood and made sense of Buddhism. This is, of course, a claim that Buddhist-oriented psychologists make themselves in order to help legitimate their work. Is Buddhism, like the fabled Ship of Theseus, something that undergoes constant transformation yet remains, somehow, the same ship, or at some point is it no longer Buddhism? Are karma, reincarnation, merit-making, and celestial bodhisattvas necessary parts of any Buddhism, or can a Buddhism without them still be a Buddhism? Who gets to decide whether something is still a form of Buddhism, or whether it is crypto-Buddhism or simply New Age nonsense? These are questions Helderman raises, presenting arguments on both sides, but leaves essentially unresolved. Helderman emphasizes that these questions are not mere idle questions. There is something important at stake here. At the heart of these disputes is a clinician struggling with how best to help a seriously disturbed patient who has not been helped by the usual and customary therapeutic measures—a therapist who, in the midst of uncertainty and controversy, must make a decision about whether and how to make use of something he learned at a conference, in a zendo, or from a book that he thinks might be helpful but is not sure will be universally applauded. Helderman thinks we ought to have some real sympathy for this clinician, but he also thinks that in order to do their work well, clinicians need to formulate and clarify their own considered answers as to what is health and well-being, what kind of endeavor therapy is, and to what degree religion can and ought to be included in this mix.

Helderman has written a book that is admirable in terms of its comprehensiveness, depth, and nuance. The clinicians included in this study are a good representation of thought leaders—psychoanalytic, cognitive-behavioral, and humanistic/transpersonal—in the field. His historical coverage of seminal figures, such as Jung, Alexander, Maslow, and Fromm, is excellent. He makes good use of the work of contemporary Buddhist scholars, such as Stephen Bokenkamp, José Cabezón, Francisca Cho, Rupert Gethin, Jay Garfield, Luis Gomez, Janet Gyatso, Donald Lopez Jr., David McMahan, John McRae, Ann Gleig, Robert Campany, and Robert Sharf, among many others, as well as scholars of contemporary religion and spirituality. Helderman’s book is the most accurate, complete, and in-depth exploration of how Western psychotherapists therapize, filter, translate, personalize, adopt, and integrate Buddhism into their theories, lives, and practices yet written, and is likely to remain a classic for years to come. It has implications not only for how clinicians construe their practice but also in understanding the largest vector for either (depending on one’s viewpoint) the transmission of Buddhism into American culture or its secularization and diminishment.



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