Episode 121 :: Charles Prebish :: An American Buddhist Life

| June 10, 2012 | 15 Comments

Charles Prebish

Charles Prebish, scholar of American Buddhism, speaks with us about his book An American Buddhist Life: Memoirs of a Modern Dharma Pioneer.

As Buddhism has moved into new cultures and societies, it has done two things: it has created outposts of its historical traditions in those new locations and times, and it has evolved new forms that influence and are influenced by new locations and times. We see that today in the West, as temples are started adhering to a particular people’s religious framework for study, practice, and worship, while others more closely mirror the current social norms. In our contemporary Western culture, there is more inclination to secular attitudes, and so we see the development of a Buddhism that is informed by the past, but not adherent to it in all ways.

The wonderful opportunity we have is that these differing approaches can help one another, learn from one another, and contribute to one another to help foster the ongoing growth of a beneficial practice for people, regardless of their background.

Charles Prebish is among the most prominent scholars in studying the forms that Buddhist tradition has taken in the United States. Dr. Prebish has been an officer in the International Association of Buddhist Studies, and was co-founder of the Buddhism Section of the American Academy of Religion. In 1994, he co-founded the online Journal of Buddhist Ethics, which was the first online peer-reviewed journal in the field of Buddhist Studies. Prebish has also served as editor of the Journal of Global Buddhism and Critical Review of Books in Religion. In 1996, he co-founded the Routledge “Critical Studies in Buddhism” series, and currently co-edits the Routledge “World Religions” series of textbooks. He is also co-editor of the Routeldge Encyclopedia of Buddhism project. By the way, I would encourage you to come to the episode page for this episode, as I’ve included a link to a video talk Dr. Prebish gave that is a terrific resource, and simply fun to listen to.

So, sit back, relax, and have a nice Jasmine Mint tea.


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Music for This Episode


Chikuzen Shakuhachi Series

The music heard in the middle of the podcast is from the Chikuzen Shakuhachi Series, Volume 1, courtesy of Tai Hei Shakuhachi. The tracks used in this episode are:

  • Track 6 :: Esashi Oiwake


Category: Book Reviews, The Secular Buddhist Podcast

About the Author ()

Ted Meissner is the host of the podcast Present Moment: Mindfulness Practice and Science. He has been a meditator since the early 90’s, has been interviewed for Books and Ideas, Mindful Lives, and The Whole Leader podcasts, spoken about mindfulness with various groups including Harvard Humanist Hub, and has written for Elephant Journal and The International Journal of Whole Person Care. He is the Executive Director of the Secular Buddhist Association, host of the SBA’s official podcast The Secular Buddhist, and is on the Advisory Board for the Spiritual Naturalist Society. Ted’s background is in the Zen and Theravada traditions, he is a regular speaker on interfaith panel discussions, and is interested in examining the evolution of contemplative practice in contemporary culture. Ted teaches Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) at the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care & Society, where he is the Manager of Online Programming and Community Development.

Comments (15)

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  1. Doug says:

    Thanks for that, Ted. It’s often struck me that Buddhism’s development in the west is sort of a ‘middle path’ between being a householder who just keeps the five precepts and being a monk.

    It’s an interesting new development, but I can see it creates strains along the way, as people learn to make space for it and deal with its new implications.

  2. Candol says:

    Another Nice talk.

  3. yeshe rabgye says:

    Such an interesting interview. There is one thing thought – American Buddhism? Do you guys want to go it alone? What about the rest of the West? I feel if we have to call it something, and I’m not sure we do, Western Buddhism would be better. Though in my heart I think plain old simple Buddhism is good enough.

  4. Candol says:

    Yeshe, i have heard objections to calling it western buddhism. Those people suggested modern buddhism because even in some eastern cultures things are modernising fast and poeple want to follow buddhism in much the same way as we are in the west.

    But the main objection i would say to your objection is there is truth in American Buddhism just as there is truth in Australian buddhism or British Buddhism. So American buddhism does not mean going it alone. It just refers to what is going on in America.

    So we can have all the national buddhisms, traditional buddhism, modern buddhism, and secular buddhism. All mean different things and are applicable in different contexts. All are appropriate in the right context.

    Another term i have heard for modern buddhism was new buddhism though it doens’t seem to have taken hold of a collective imagination. I think its a nice alternative though.

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