January 23, 2005: Headlines: COS - Thailand: Buddhism: San Fransisco Chronicle: Thailand RPCV Jack Kornfield co-founded Spirit Rock Meditation Center

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Thailand: Peace Corps Thailand: The Peace Corps in Thailand: January 23, 2005: Headlines: COS - Thailand: Buddhism: San Fransisco Chronicle: Thailand RPCV Jack Kornfield co-founded Spirit Rock Meditation Center

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Thailand RPCV Jack Kornfield co-founded Spirit Rock Meditation Center

Thailand RPCV Jack Kornfield co-founded Spirit Rock Meditation Center

Thailand RPCV Jack Kornfield co-founded Spirit Rock Meditation Center

Bridging Eastern and Western Buddhism

Reviewed by Don Lattin, Chronicle Religion Writer

Sunday, January 23, 2005


The First Generation of Theravada Buddhism in America

By Wendy Cadge


Buddhism is not a religion of the Word, and thank God for that.

Judaism has its Torah, Christianity has the Gospels and Islam its Koran, but the Middle Path prescribed by the Buddha comes with no required reading. It's supposed to be about meditation and mindfulness. It's a path of right action, right intention, right speech, right concentration and right livelihood.

Buddha never claimed to have talked to God nor to have received any divinely inspired words from his Higher Power.

So if Buddhism is not about words, why do these two books -- "Heartwood: The First Generation of Theravada Buddhism in America" by Wendy Cadge and "An End to Suffering: The Buddha in the World" by Pankaj Mishra -- keep staring at me from my night table, getting buried by other books but refusing to go away?


There are also thousands of mostly Caucasian practitioners of a form of Theravada Buddhist meditation called vipassana. It has been popularized by the Insight Meditation Society, founded in 1975 by Joseph Goldstein, Jack Kornfield and Sharon Salzberg. Kornfield, a former Peace Corps volunteer in South Asia, later co-founded Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Marin County, a popular retreat in the coastal hills near Woodacre. Cadge's conclusions about the Buddhism practiced by the Cambridge converts certainly applies to Spirit Rock, which has emerged over the past decade as one of the nation's leading Buddhist centers.

"While consciously moving away from the monks, temples, rituals, and other aspects of what some call the cultural trappings of Buddhism in Southeast Asia, many convert Theravada Buddhist practitioners nevertheless worked over the past thirty-five years to preserve and pass along the essence of the Buddha's teachings in the United States.''

"Convert" may not be the right word for many of the meditators who retreat to Spirit Rock or the dozens of other vipassana centers that have sprung up across the country. Many of Cadge's interviewees stop short of calling themselves Buddhists. They prefer "Christian with a Buddhist practice, " or "Ju-Bu," a term coined to describe American Jews who embrace Buddhist meditation.

"Heartwood" provides a thorough analysis and comparison of "imported" and "immigrant" Buddhism, though Cadge's writing style may appeal more to sociology students than spiritual seekers.

My suggestion to those seeking an understanding of the two Buddhisms in America is to go experience a Sunday afternoon on the 1900 block of Russell Street in Berkeley. At 1911 Russell St., you will find scores of Thai immigrants crowding into the backyard of Temple Mongkolratanaram for a noontime feast of Thai food and boisterous conversation.

Above the din, in an upstairs flat converted into a makeshift temple, you may find a Thai family presenting the monks with a plastic laundry basket filled with bottles of Calistoga fruit juice, rolls of paper towels and other household supplies.

Just a few doors up the street, at 1929 Russell St., you may find a few dozen veterans of the spiritual counterculture filing into the rustic elegance of a traditional Japanese meditation hall. Once inside the zendo of the Berkeley Zen Center, you may see these "serious" Buddhists sitting atop round black cushions, backs straight, facing a white wall.

Read books on Buddhism, or meditate on Russell Street?

What would Buddha do?

E-mail Don Lattin at dlattin@sfchronicle.com.

When this story was posted in January 2005, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Read the stories and leave your comments.

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Story Source: San Fransisco Chronicle

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Thailand; Buddhism



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