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American Buddhists growing in numbers, practicing variations on the faith

Published: Friday, July 3 2015 11:31 a.m. MDT

In this Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2011 photo, Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, right, and Tibetan Buddhism's third most important leader Ugyen Thinley Dorje, the 17th Karmapa, pray with other Buddhist leaders at an all faith prayer meeting. (Saurabh Das, Associated Press) In this Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2011 photo, Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, right, and Tibetan Buddhism's third most important leader Ugyen Thinley Dorje, the 17th Karmapa, pray with other Buddhist leaders at an all faith prayer meeting. (Saurabh Das, Associated Press)

Our take: Although surveys have found that the number of Americans who practice the Buddhist religion is rapidly growing, the practice of the Eastern faith doesn't necessarily reflect the traditional path. In fact, a "North American sacred tradition" has sprung up that is somewhat different from "wholesale" Buddhism, but, according to some Buddhists, this is possible because of the simplicity of the faith, its broad applicability to all cultures and types of people, and because it does not rely on the belief in any deity.

American Buddhism’s numbers are booming. Published just over three years ago, an American Religious Identification Survey showed that from the years 1990 to 2000, Buddhism grew 170 percent in North America. By all indications that remarkable rate of growth continues unabated.

Why is a faith founded under a Bodhi tree in India 2,500 years ago enjoying a newfound popularity in America today?

There is no such thing as a historic North American Buddhist tradition, a fact that is crucial to understanding and facilitating Buddhism’s blossoming. This growth is all the more remarkable given that Buddhism was arguably the most recent import of a major religion to North America from the East. It’s important to note that Western practitioners meditating in Massachusetts or applying the Eight-fold Path in Portland often reach back to the established Buddhist traditions of Sri Lanka or Thailand, Tibet, or Vietnam, Myanmar or Korea, China, or Japan. But that’s not the only way to be Buddhist.

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