Western Buddhism

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Western Buddhism


American Buddhist Movement

301 W. 45th St.
New York, NY 10036

The American Buddhist Movement, also known as the Association of American Buddhists, was founded in 1980 as an independent Buddhist order to promote Buddhism in America and ordain Buddhist monks. Rather than following any particular school of Buddhism, the movement respects all traditions as equal and encourages the unity of Buddhist thought and practice. Theravada, Mahayana, and Vajrayana Buddhists participated in the movement's founding. In defining its peculiar role, the movement asserts that an American form of Buddhism is possible and that Westerners do not have to adopt Asian cultural forms to be Buddhists.

The movement has established a variety of structures to perpetuate its program. Classes are offered on a variety of Buddhist concerns, including introduction to the several distinctive national traditions. Periodically, an American Buddhist Directory is published. Plans have been announced to build a permanent center in the New York City area to house a meditation hall, library, and lecture room.

Membership in the movement is open to all, and activities have been designed to serve those primarily affiliated with the movement as well as those affiliated with other groups. Leadership is invested in a four-person board of directors. Kevin R. O'Neil has served as its president since its inception.

Membership: In 2002 the movement reported 12,000 members in 535 centers. Most of these centers have their primary affiliations with the other Buddhist organizations discusses in this volume.

Educational Facilities: Buddhist College, New York, New York.

Periodicals: American Buddhist Newsletter.


The American Buddhist Directory. New York: American Buddhist Movement, 1985.


Buddhist Fellowship of New York

331 Riverside Dr.
New York, NY 10025

The Rev. Boris Erwitt, an American ordained to the Buddhist priesthood in Japan, began the Buddhist Fellowship of New York in 1961. The original group consisted of eight friends of the Reverend Erwitt who banded together to practice, study and propagate Buddhism, and to provide a gathering for Buddhists of non-Buddhist background. The program is centered on bimonthly meetings with a service according to the Pure Land practice and a lengthy discussion in which all participate. A number of pamphlets have been published and distributed.

The membership is small and drawn largely from the intellectual and artistic community. Some were first interested in Buddhism through the "beat" generation's emphasis on Zen. Project Sujata (named after the girl who saved Buddha's life) practices the virtue of "Ooana" (giving) by sponsoring the education of an indigent American Indian child and scholarships for "untouchables" in India.

Membership: Not reported.

Periodicals: Kantaka.


Buddhist World Philosophical Group


The Buddhist World Philosophical Group was a small Buddhist fellowship headquartered in Three Rivers, Michigan. Its leader, Marie Harlow (b.1902), took over the longstanding Chicago-based occult periodical, The Occult Digest, in the 1940s and began almost immediately to emphasize Eastern religion, particularly Buddhism, over occult topics. In 1944 she renamed the magazine World Philosophy, and later moved its editorial office to Three Rivers, Michigan. In 1962 World Philosophy became Buddhist World Philosophy, and Harlow announced a set of four aims for the magazine: to promote universal brotherhood, to proclaim the sanctity of life, to destroy the "limitations of the negative Semitic religious God-concept," and to turn America toward Buddhism. A small group of people congregated around the ideals articulated by Harlow which continued to meet until her death.


Center for Timeless Wisdom

555 Bryant St., No. 302
Palo Alto, CA 94301

The Center for Timeless Wisdom was established in 1992 to provide Westerners access to non-dualistic wisdom of Asia (primarily Buddhism and Taoism). The center was founded by Peter Fenner and his wife Penny Fenner. Peter Fenner is a Buddhist scholar who has taught and written in Buddhist studies, Asian philosophy, and East-West psychology in Australia and the United States for more than two decades. Through the 1980s and 1990s he also developed a form of inquiry which he espouses as efficiently transmitting the liberating wisdom of Buddhism and other non-dualistic traditions in a pure and direct form. Penny Fenner is a psychologist who works with both individuals and groups and has studied with many leading Tibetan Buddhist masters.

The Fenners view the center's work as at the forefront of cross-cultural translation, and productive of a refined synthesis of Eastern and Western wisdom. The distance of the average Westerner both in space and time from the Ancient Eastern texts tends to communicate the impossibility of their attaining enlightenment. However, the Fenners attempt to combine perspectives found in Zen, Taoism, and the Buddhist Middle Path with an understanding of group dynamics in such a way that a simple and precise process for disclosing and releasing emotional and intellectual fixations emerges, and participants are meaningfully assisted in their spiritual progress.

The center's work is presented through dialogues, workshops, and retreats in Europe, the United States, and Australia. The Living Wisdom course is the core program offered by the center. The course presents the liberating essence of Asia's most profound wisdom traditions through an interactive process that opens up a way of being in which there is nothing more we need in order to be complete and fulfilled. The course offers participants an opportunity to cut through blockades to spiritual progress and experience a state of "natural meditation" that isn't disturbed by interpersonal activities and that dissolves the boundaries between practice and daily life. The participant is given skills for infusing all activities with peacefulness and clarity. In contrast to more traditional forms of spirituality, Living Wisdom isn't based on ritual or present beliefs and practices. Instead it offers a method that responds to the emotional and intellectual rhythm of each participant.

Membership: Not reported.


Fenner, Peter. The Ontology of the Middle Way. Norwell, MA: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1990.

——. Reasoning into Reality: A System-Cybernetics Model and Therapeutic

Interpretation of Buddhist Middle Path Analysis. Sommerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 1995.

——, and Penny Fenner. Intrinsic Freedom: The Art of Stress-Free Living. Agoura, CA: Millennium Books, 1994.


Chan Nhu Buddhist Pagoda

7201 W. Bayaud Pl.
Lakewood, CO 80226

The Chan Nhu Buddhist Pagoda is a significant center seeking a new way for American Buddhists, especially females. It was founded in 1985 by Ayya Chan Nhu, a Vietnamese nun, now assisted as codirector by Dharmapali (Martha Sentnor). Though begun as a Vietnamese center, Chan Nhu came to believe that the temple would be of more use as an open Buddhist space. Thus it has come to house a Chinese Pure Land group, a Tibetan Vajrayana group, and a Vipassana meditation group. In addition, other groups may use the facilities for classes, retreats, or weekly meditation sessions.

Dharmapali began in Theravada Buddhism in the Sri Lankan community in Washington, D.C., but rejected what she saw as the inherent sexism in the rules regarding monastics. However, she went on to become a nun, taking her vows first with the Thai-based community led by Ajahn Sumedho in England and then with the Sri Lankan community in New York City. She has a goal of creating a nunnery which combines Thai and Sri Lankan practice with some elements of Mahayana Buddhism.

Membership: Not reported.

Periodicals: Newsletter.


Bucher, Sandy. Turning the Wheel: American Women Creating the New Buddhism. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1986.

Rawlinson, Andrew. The Book of Enlightened Masters: Western Teachers in Eastern Traditions. La Salle, IL: Open Court Press, 1997. 650 pp.


Church of One Sermon

Current address not obtained for this edition.

The Church of One Sermon located in Lemon Grove, California, was formed in the 1970s to aid in "the Full Awakening in all people of that special Reality knowledge first testified to by Guatama Siddhartha, the Buddha." Its founder and director was Leonard Enos. An eclectic approach centered on Mahayana Buddhism, but including tantra and Zen and even some Sufism, was taught, with particular interest being given to current research in psychology on the meditative states of consciousness. The program consisted largely of meditation, exercise, and discussion sessions. One center was functioning in 1973, but in recent years no evidence of its continued existence had appeared.


Davachan Temple

2 Dickey St.
Eureka Springs, AR 72632

Davachan Temple, established in 1980 in the health resort town of Eureka Springs, Arkansas, has pioneered the emerging American Buddhism. Over two decades, the temple's leader, Bhikkhuni Miao Keang Sudharma (Alexa Roy), studied, mastered, and was ordained in three distinct Buddhist traditions, Soto Zen (through Juyi Kennett Roshi, 1963), Sri Lankan Theravada (1973), and Chinese Pure Land (1983). Her religious name indicates her varied background.

Devachan Temple has emerged as an eclectic center whose practices have been taken from Soto, Theravada, Ch'an (Chinese Zen), and Pure Land tradition, and chanting is done in both Pali and Chinese. The temple invites Buddhists from all traditions to use its facilities for personal retreats (for which there is no charge) and participate in its varied activities. The resulting practice constitutes a new unique Buddhism that is female friendly.

Membership: Not reported.


Rawlinson, Andrew. The Book of Enlightened Masters: Western Teachers in Eastern Traditions. La Salle, IL: Open Court Press, 1997. 650 pp.


Friends of Buddhism-Washington D.C.

Current address not obtained for this edition.

Alabama-born Robert Stuart Clifton became interested in Buddhism as a student at Columbia University in the 1920s. He moved to San Francisco and lived in the Japanese community. In 1933, he was ordained as a priest in the Honpa Hongwanji Mission, now the Buddhist Churches of America, and began English language work along the West Coast. In 1934, he traveled to Japan and while there became a Higashi Hongwanji priest. Upon his return to America, he lectured widely and organized a number of "friends of Buddhism" societies, mostly in the East.

The Washington Friends of Buddhism was formed in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Lee Sirat at a gathering of persons Clifton had interested in Buddhism. There were 11 in the original group. The program has always centered on lectures and discussion of Buddhism, but meditation and worship have been included from the beginning. Wesak, the spring fesival honoring Gautama Buddha, is also celebrated.

The only one of the Friends of Buddhism groups, besides the Washington group, to survive through the 1960s was the Friends of Buddhism of New York, founded in the early 1950s. In the late 1960s, following the retirement of its leader, Frank E. Becker, the New York group merged with the Washington group. Kurt F. Leidecker, who succeeded Clifton as head of the Washington group, died in 1991, and the current status of the group is unknown.

Membership: Not reported.


Leidecker, Kurt F. History of the Washington Friends of Buddhism. Washington, DC: United States Information Service, 1960.


Friends of the Western Buddhist Order (FWBO)

℅ Aryaloka
14 Heartwood Circle
Newmarket, NH 03857

Alternate Address: International Heaquarters: ℅ Sangharakshita, 329, Sauchiehall St., Glasgow, Scotland G2 3HW.

The Friends of the Western Buddhist Order (the FWBO) was founded by the Ven. Maha Sthavira Sangharakshita (b. 1925) as an instrument of a new Buddhist tradition for the West that would draw upon the whole Buddhist tradition while emphasizing its central principles in order to meet the spiritual needs of the modern world. Sangharakshita was born Denis Lingwood in South London, United Kingdom. Largely self-educated, he developed an interest in the Eastern teachings as a youth and at the age of 16 realized that he was a Buddhist.

He went to India during World War II and he stayed on to become the Buddhist monk Sangharakshita ("protected by the spiritual community"). He studied in various Buddhist traditions and became an accomplished teacher and the writer of more than 40 books. Sangharakshita worked for the revival of Buddhism in India, particularly through his work with the ex-Untouchables. He knew Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar (1891–1956), the Buddhist leader among the Untouchables, and after Ambedkar's death he continued to work for their conversion to Buddhism which Ambedkar had started.

The FWBO is committed to presenting Buddhism in a way felt to be relevant to the modern West. The modern environment of industry, technology, and communications is a world away from the conditions under which traditional Buddhism evolved and thrived. While some of the forms through which Buddhism has been expressed need change, the FWBO believes that the essence of Buddhism is universal and unchanging, and it is that essence that it is trying to communicate. As heirs to the whole of Buddhism, members of FWBO reject an attitude of eclecticism, though it attempts to make use of whatever is helpful for the actual spiritual needs of modern Westerners.

At the heart of the FWBO is the Western Buddhist Order, a body of men and women who have committed themselves to following the Buddhist path to Enlightenment, and made that commitment the central point of their lives. The order offers an alternative to the model found in some forms of Eastern Buddhism where everyone is either a monk or a lay person. It is open to any man or woman who is sincerely committed to the Buddhist path, not just to those who want to live a monastic lifestyle. Although order members try to lead a one hundred percent Buddhist life, they are not monks or nuns. The emphasis is not the lifestyle but the spiritual commitment.

Some order members live a monastic life in a retreat center while others live with their families and pursue a career. Others work full-time for a Right Livelihood business; others again are supported to work full-time at their local FWBO center. There are no rules, and as Buddhism does not recognize the existence of a creator god, there are no commandments to obey. However, at the time of their ordination, all order members undertake to practice a traditional set of ethical precepts applied to all actions of body, speech, and mind.

The FWBO has expanded worldwide. The aging Sangharakshita is, as the century draws to a close, completing the process of handing over responsibility to the members of the Western Buddhist Order.

Membership: As of 1996, there were approximately 70 FWBO urban centers and retreat centres, and activities in over 20 countries. The FWBO is one of the principal Buddhist movements in the United Kingdom, India, and Australasia and is increasingly well-established in Western Europe and the United States. In 1996 the order had 660 members in over 20 countries, and over 1,000 people have requested ordination and are working to prepare themselves to be ordained.


Subhuti, Dharmachari (Alex Kennedy). Buddhism for Today: A Portrait of a New Buddhist Movement. Glasgow: Windhorse Publications, 1988. 234 pp.


Harmony Buddhist Mission

Clarksville, AK 92830

The Harmony Buddhist Mission was founded in 1953 by Frank Newton. It is centered on Buddhist ethical and philosophical teachings. Self-responsibility and attunement to fact are stressed. Leaders in the mission (preceptors) are not allowed to receive any income for religious duties but must work at secular occupations. Frank Newton has gained a reputation as a writer and translator of Buddhist literature. Some 1,500 people have reportedly come into Buddhism through his efforts.

Membership: Not reported.


Hoa Hao Buddhism

PO Box 3048
Santa Fe Springs, CA 90670

Alternate Address: Central Council of Administrators of Hoa Hao Buddhist Church, 2114 W. McFadden Ave., Santa Ana, CA92704.

Hoa Hao Buddhism (Phat Giao Hoa Hao or PGHH) is a reformist Buddhist movement combining elements of Vietnamese Buddhism with the popular veneration of ancestors. It is considered by its followers to be a "reform" branch of Buddhism, and has abandoned an institutionalized priesthood while rejecting many of the ritual aspects of the more popular Vietnamese Buddhism. For instance, Hoa Hao altars display no Buddha statues but a piece of brown cloth.

Hoa Hao followers see their movement as an extension of the Buu Son Ky Huong (literally, "Strange Fragrance of Precious Mountains"), a Vietnamese group established in 1849. However, Hoa Hao Buddhism was formally launched in 1939 by Huynh Phu So (1919-1947), a charismatic youthful visionary. He taught basic Buddhist ideas coupled with the concept of the "Four Debts," traditional duties owed to one's ancestors and parents, the Father-land, and one's compatriots; and Buddhist values. He launched the movement at Hoa Hao village in Tan Chau district, Chau Doc province, in the Mekong Delta near the Cambodian border. Hoa Hao was his birthplace. Within a few months, the movement spread across Vietnam and over the next two years Huynh Phu So composed four volumes that contained the basics of Hoa Hao doctrine. The movement distributed some 800,000 copies.

In 1945, Vietnam declared its independence, and Huynh Phu So allied with the Viet Minh to resist the French. On September 21, 1946, he established the Social Democrat Party of Vietnam (Viet Nam Dan Chu Xa Hoi Dang also known as Dan Xa). But the alliance between the Hoa Hao and Viet Minh fell apart and in 1947 he was executed by the Communists. Believers still hope that Huynh Phu So will soon descend back to earth and reappear among them. The group suffered persecution in the 1950s under the Ngo Dinh Diem regime. Only in 1963, after the fall of the Diem government, was the movement able to reorganize and select a new administrative body. However, since the reunification of Vietnam in 1975, government authorities have again moved against the organization by confiscating Hoa Hao properties, abolishing its organizational structure, and banning its public celebrations. The group was no longer allowed to distribute its sacred scriptures.

Beginning in the 1970s, Hoa Hao followers began to move to the United States as part of the postwar migration. Subsequently, the international authority of the movement was reestablished in America. Membership is concentrated largely in Viet Nam and the United States, the greatest number in the former. Followers are concentrated in the Mekong Delta region. Leadership is provided by a Central Council of Administrators under which operate a set of provincial and local administrative committees.

In 1999, the Vietnamese government officially recognized the Hoa Hao community, and in May of that year, a group of 160 Hoa Hao delegates was able to convene a congress in An Giang province with government approval. However, the new organization has not yet been unable to gain control of the movement as many followers both inside and outside the country see it as a government-dominated organization.

Membership: In 2002, the organization reported more than 3,000 centers of activity across Vietnam and some two million members. There were some 10,000 preachers. The much smaller membership in America was not reported.


Hoa hao Buddhism. http://hoahao.org. (in English and Vietnamese) 25 January 25, 2002.

Biography and Teachings of Prophet Huynh Phu So. Santa Fe Springs, CA: Hoa Hao Buddhist Overseas Office, 1983.

Hue Tam Ho Tai. Millenarism and Peasant Politics in Vietnam. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1983.


Phoenix Buddhist Network

4701 N. 35th Way
Phoenix, AZ 85018

The Phoenix Buddhist Network includes a diverse set of Buddhist centers and activities among Buddhists in the greater Phoenix area and across Arizona. It includes the Center for Buddhist Development in Chandler, the Phoenix Vietnamese Zen Temple, the Buddhist Association of Arizona State University, and the Phoenix Buddhist Association. Dr. Terry Kinnard serves as the resident director for several of these groups. An emphasis is placed on both meditation and mindfulness and service in the community. Also associated with the centers in Arizona is the Rosemead Buddhist Monastery in Rosemead, California, and Bhante Chao Chu, the abbot who serves as the spiritual head of the network.

Membership: Not reported.

Periodicals: Common Sense. Available from 7833 Emerson Pl., Rosemead, CA 91770. • Phoenix Buddhist Network Newsletter. Available from the address given above.


Morreale, Don. The Complete Guide to Buddhist America. Boston: Shambhala, 1998.




Shivapuram was founded in 1963 by Radha Appu (also known as Rakshasi) in the Catskill Mountains of New York. While on a retreat and doing vigorous breathing and concentration exercises to raise the kundalini (creative energy), he became aware of the Master Vijaya Bhattacharya, who appeared to him. Over a period of time, the master gave instructions and told Radha Appu to "Go forward" and found Shivapuram. He remained as the sole contact with the master, though sporadic appearances were made to the shivas, the members of the Shivapuram. In 1967, Rakshasi was given instructions to found a worldwide Crusade of the Spirit to save humanity from self-destruction.

Though borrowing from Hinduism, the Shivapuram was basically Mahayana Buddhist with large portions of tantra. Adherents did not believe in escape into nirvana, but in accepting the world and using it as a means of liberation. They sought Buddhatva, the quality of being enlightened. They use chants and mantras and meditative yoga.

The Shivapuram members were largely drawn from California. There were in 1971 three priests, ten lecturers, and approximately 300 members. While committed to spreading the movement, the members were not openly evangelistic and were highly selective about who is invited to join or even attend meetings. There has been no evidence of a continuing movement in recent years.


Universal Buddhist Fellowship

PO Box 1079
Ojai, CA 93023

The Universal Buddhist Fellowship was formed in 1951 by the Venerable H. H. (Tissa) Priebe of Ojai, California. It is described as autonomous and non-sectarian. Its purpose is dissemination of the Western Dharma (the true way of life taught by Buddha).

Membership: Not reported.

Periodicals: Western Bodhi.

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