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Ethnography Buddhism in The United States

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The purpose of this ethnography essay is to show Buddhism in America and how its contemporary application. Also to shows its ability and how can be a utility for society without being ostentatious and changing social fabric to the point of confrontation. The ethnographers wanted to show the unique perspective and to show the diffusion of Buddhism in this country by showing its advantages and cultural fulfillment. They show how Buddhism has impacted Americans, and how they have modified and embraced Buddhism to fit their own system of beliefs. For example by not fully embracing Buddhism as a religion but rather a set of beliefs they can be apply it wherever it is necessary for them. In order to show this they told the reader what Buddhism is actually. They said Buddhism is not a traditional religion like Christianity, but more of a selective belief system. Participants may practice certain aspects of Buddhism but do not have to practice the religion fully. Buddhism has no god, and in certain sects anyone can be Buddha. Also is not a religion of faith, but of reason. The observer attains reason through intellectual reflection which is called meditation. Thus, they showed us there is a separation between the religion and its practices. I think this is due to the fact that in Buddhism you’re taught to follow your own path, and if this path doesn’t ascribe to your needs you’re able to take from it what you want and live in the best way that gives you harmony. This ethnography showed that the American observers have customized the religion by adding American cultural identifiers. Such as bowing not only to the Buddha statue but to follow students too. They say this shows an American worldview of being “equal and individual”. Also by American teachers inventing things like walking meditation gives westerners an easier path to meditation and allows them to go anywhere to get its benefits. It also shows cultural adaptation and acceptance.

The ethnography went into a Buddhist group in the northeastern United States in the spring of 2010 and observed the Friday study group and Sunday mediation of this group. They conducted informal interviews and did a census of the group. They found of that the majority of the attendees were “women in their 50’s and 60’s”. They said on average there were “10 to 12 people that came for the mediation sessions”. During their interviews they said that of their people in the group on average only 3 people of their class of 12 were actually practicing Buddhists. Showing that you don’t have to observe the religion in order to benefit from it. The group followed the teachings of Tick Nat Han’s Buddhism. Which emphasized Buddhism while sitting down and Buddhism while walking. They said that observed the patrons bowing to the Buddha statue during meditation, but also to other students which was an ‘American dynamic that reflected our individual worldview.’ They also said that groups imparted anti-material aspects of Buddhism by talking about social change. For example one group of women after a class talked about going down to Walmart when they’re throwing away ‘good’ produce and giving it to people that could eat it. I liked this immersion into a more contemporary American Buddhism because it showed show how the average practitioner would react and contribute. They only got to see this one group of people I believe they could’ve achieved more by going to different regions might have had more diversity among their patrons and saw what their contributions to Buddhism might have been.

The ethnographers said on average 3 of the patrons in the class were Buddhist. I think they could’ve utilized them more by asking more personal questions. I think it would have been interesting to discover if they were born into the religion or converted to it. Also if they converted, what was the enculturation process like? What was the conversation like when you told your family and friends about your new practices? What were the staples of this religion that reflected your view of their life?. This ethnography asked informal questions, which helped them contact with the people of study but it lacked any interviews or catalogs of these patrons. I feel like the aim of this was let people know about Buddhism, which they did well, they also clarified and demystified any claim that it is an ‘Orient’ or ‘Anicent’ religion by showing studies of its usefulness and also showing that it isn’t faith based but a fact based religion. While doing this that they wanted to show how it can impact a western’s everyday life. I think this is where they lacked, because it felt informative but not personal. I just think in order for people to connect on that basis you need to have first-hand accounts for people that have experienced and embraced this religion. How they went about doing it? What problems did they have in order to try this? Also what are some of the personal misconceptions that they had but were answered.

In conclusion Buddhism is very accessible to the common person and aspects of it of are missing for the standard Judeo-Christian model for society. I think by being noninvasive it gives people a more complete religious experience. Religions goal to me should be to better people’s lives and to give people answers to questions that help do this. By being a Buddhist or even imparting some it into your belief system like Christianity you can ease anxiety, stress, and manage problems. They quoted a Zen Buddhist who said you should, ‘recognize the spark before the flame’. In the reading Psychologist Paul Ekman then clarified this saying ”we would have even more choice if we were able to become aware of the automatic appraisal as it is happening, and modify or cancel it at will”. Meaning that it shows people their thoughts and how to regulate actions, it helps stop people from overreacting and if you chose to act on something it shows you the most mindful way of approaching it. Examples like this and examples of how it has been embraced by Americans and how it has allowed us to showcase of ideals like individualism and equality by letting us modify it are reasons people will feel welcome to it. Since there is no right way to be a Buddhist. The modern world casts shadows that need new light to help illuminate problems. Buddhism can help do this in a bolstering way. People just need to know about it and know that the process of starting it. I think this is the main place where this ethnography is lacking. I feel if they incorporated more interviews and accounts from their study group, and also used a more diverse population as another example of contemporary Buddhism it would best serve their goal of education and our goal of learning about a very interesting religion.


  1. Choe, J., & McNally, J. (2013). Buddhism in the United States: an Ethnographic Study. International Journal of Religious Tourism and Pilgrimage, 1(1), 93-100. Retrieved July 8, 2017, from
  2. Ekman P (2007) Emotions revealed: recognizing faces and feelings to improve communication and emotional life (2nd Ed.). New York: Owl Books

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Ethnography Buddhism In The United States. (2021, March 18). GradesFixer. Retrieved December 2, 2021, from
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