from Rebel Buddha, Chapter 4 (pp. 43-44)
When the first wave of Buddhist teachers began arriving in the U.S. in the late 1950s and the 1960s, the United States was less than 200 years old. Compared to the ancient civilizations of the East, this country was like a child still figuring out “Who am I? What do I want to be when I grow up?” Even today, we hear questions like, “Who are the real Americans? What are genuine American values?” The first Buddhist teachers to arrive in this “new world” brought with them not only the teachings of the Buddha, or “dharma,” but also their old world cultures. Some lived here, adopted this culture and learned its language. Others visited, but without embracing American culture or language. These teachers made a tremendous effort to establish the Buddha’s teachings in the West. Although there were inevitably some cultural conflicts and misunderstandings, they showed great trust in their Western students, who trusted and opened their hearts to them in return.
Nevertheless, every presentation of the Buddhist teachings was somewhat cultural, from the set-up of the shrines to the code of ethics in the shrine room. This was necessary at the time, to some degree. The hippies of the Sixties were going through a revolution of mind. They wanted nothing less than to change the culture of the West and free their society from its own rigid social structures and values. Having a new and exotic spirituality from far beyond the land of their birth was very appealing. It even became a key to the transformation of the time.
Why should we look back 2600 years—or even 50—when we are here now, worrying about our own lives? Why write about this at all? There’s a need to reflect on the history of dharma coming to the West and ask some questions: Why are we developing a lineage of American Buddhism and a Buddhism for the West and modern cultures altogether? Who is this dharma for? It is simply to help those of us living here and now to discover the same truth that the Buddha discovered centuries ago. That truth does not change. It does not come in and out of fashion over time. However, it does need to be accessible, and in my view, what it will take for us to “get it” is another revolution of mind.